Note: Joan Seppala, Founder and Publisher of The Independent, supported No on P.
We agree with the opinion of Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler expressed in the pleadings that she filed on Feb. 10 in Alameda County Superior Court.
She argued against Livermore’s lawsuit targeting five residents who wrote a rebuttal to the City’s ballot arguments opposing the Central Park Plan initiative. Alameda County Supervisors were also named as defendants.
In her answer, Ziegler wrote that the suit “fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action” against the county supervisors. The five citizens, we believe, are inferred as well. The state elections code requires the supervisors to be included in the lawsuit.
Clearly, something is amiss when the city uses taxpayer dollars to support a City Clerk’s suit against five citizens for expressing their opinion.
In a Feb. 27 news story, The Independent noted, “Alameda County is asking the court to toss out the City of Livermore’s lawsuit against proponents of the Nov. 3 ballot initiative, which also names the Board of Supervisors as defendants.”
The County Counsel was responding to the Sept. 30 lawsuit filed by Livermore City Clerk Sarah Bunting against the five Livermore residents. Her complaint objects to the use of the word “Fact” before several of the points the group was making in their rebuttal to the city’s opposition statement. Voter pamphlets prominently note that ballot measure arguments are opinions.
Subsequently, Bunting resigned as an employee of the City of Livermore.
In an email to The Independent’s reporter, City Attorney Jason Alcala stated that the County is not filing a motion with the court asking to dismiss the lawsuit. He also made a point of noting that The Independent has “failed to accurately report that the petition was filed by the Elections Official in her official capacity as a constitutional and a statutory officer, and that it was not filed (by) the City.” According to Alcala, the story should have recognized that “the petitioner is the Elections Official/City Clerk and not the City.”
Alcala neglected to mention that the City has engaged a San Francisco law firm to file the lawsuit. The City Clerk is hired and fired at the pleasure of city management and the council. The City Clerk is not an independent branch of government and we should not pretend otherwise.
At a March 4 Chamber of Commerce meeting, holding up a copy of the Feb. 27 Independent, Mayor John Marchand picked up Alcala’s narrative. He said that nowhere is there a request to dismiss the lawsuit. He added that The Independent is trying to discredit the City.
While the County Counsel’s language did not request that the court dismiss the lawsuit, it struck at the heart of Livermore’s case. The county is challenging the sufficiency of the clerk’s complaint. We believe Livermore is harassing five citizens for expressing their opinions. We hope the court agrees.
In making a to-do about their objections to the Feb. 27 news story, Alcala and Marchand are trying to divert attention away from Livermore’s inappropriate lawsuit which should never have been filed. They are also trying to discredit The Independent’s role here in the Tri-Valley – the role of watchdog, the responsibility of the free press.