By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Santa Rosa neighborhood group has turned away taxpayer dollars and instead is paying to print its own newsletter to avoid what it considers censorship by City Hall.
The city for years paid to print the West End Neighborhood Association’s four-page newsletter on the premise that it helped foster strong neighborhoods.
It costs taxpayers about $360 per year to print three editions of the West End Neighborhood News. Most of the 650 copies are delivered door-to-door by volunteers.
But a little item in the November edition of the newsletter caught the attention of city officials, who flagged it as potentially violating state election law.
The blurb reported that the City Council had approved the controversial expansion of the BoDean asphalt plant, a project many association members opposed.
The item, written by association president and expansion critic Lea Barron-Thomas, named those four council members — then-Mayor Ernesto Olivares, John Sawyer, Scott Bartley and Jake Ours — who voted to approve the project.
But when Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips spotted the item in the newsletter before it was printed, she saw a potential problem.
State election law bars taxpayer-funded newsletters if they are “prepared or sent in cooperation, consultation, coordination, or concert with the elected officer.”
There is no indication this was the case. But city officials required the council members’ names be removed from the newsletter if the city were to pay to print it.
Short on time, the association paid the costs of that newsletter itself, but said it would comply with the requirement in the future.
But upon further consideration, the association has decided it would rather pay its own way than be barred from reporting basic facts.
“How can we be fully informed if we are required to withhold important information?” Barron-Thomas asked in the latest edition of the newsletter explaining the change.
She noted that the association would “not allow outside editing of our news and will pay for the printing ourselves.”
Her husband and past association president, Allen Thomas, said the group wants to continue having a good relationship with the city and appreciates the support it has received over the years.
But the decision struck him as “ridiculous” and “frivolous” and put the newsletter in the position of not even being able to write a calendar item indicating a council person was coming to speak to the association.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to say ‘A newly elected female councilperson will be at our next meeting. She has freckles and red hair. Hope you can make it,’” Thomas said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater