The City of Lindsay has violated their public’s trust so many times all we can say is, “classic Lindsay” when it happens again.
Lindsay’s second recording for their June 25 meeting between seconds 42:32 and 42:42 conspicuously went silent when Merci Herrera spoke out of turn during the City’s budget item. It just went silent. Herrera approached the microphone, began to speak and then nothing. And while technical problems happen all the time, this was no such error. City finance director/city clerk Bret Harmon, as well as city manager Bill Zigler confirmed that Herrera’s comments were not “amplified.” Harmon said he turned down the recording device when Herrera began to speak because she was talking long after the public comment period for the budget item had ended.
In other words, Harmon omitted part of the public record on purpose.
Anyone who cares to listen to the audio recording would hear Mayor Pam Kimball warning Herrera that she is speaking out of turn. When she began to speak into the microphone the obscure 10 second silence begins. It ends when Kimball states that they cannot ask “that question because it is illegal”, and then promptly calls for a vote on the budget. Of course we weren’t able to determine what that question is.
Herrera contacted the Sun-Gazette after the article published, to identify herself as the woman on the recording and to fill in the gap. Herrera said she spoke for about 30-40 seconds, not the 10 that was omitted, and raised questions about the type of employees the City hires for their upper management team.
She told the Sun-Gazette this week that her comments regarded murmurs in the community that the City has a habit of hiring those of the Mormon Church.
Herrera’s comments came during a heated discussion between first term councilwoman Yolanda Flores and staff. Flores argued that the City needs to hire people from the community and not look beyond the city’s borders for employees. Zigler replied and Harmon corroborated that the administration considers qualified candidates for positions regardless of their residence. Zigler added that if Flores wants to see more people from Lindsay work for the City of Lindsay then she should encourage them to apply. And he is right, she should.
From the Sun-Gazette’s point of view, Herrera could be lying. She could have walked up to the microphone and said some insanely politically charged rant about how Trump is ruining America, and drifting way off topic from the budget item the Council was discussing. There is no documentation, we just don’t know.
And while Zigler had correctly pointed out that the Council, staff and attending audience members were able to hear Herrera’s comments, not everyone who goes to check the public record are able to. Because of Harmon’s actions there will never be an official record of what the public had to say. What should have been a regular exercise of government transparency has turned into a conspicuous guessing game of what happened between a constituent and her elected representatives. Even worse, Lindsay’s next meeting omitted the written form of Herrera’s comments in the minutes published in the July 9 council meeting.
As those seeking truth in our reporting, Herrera was in fact speaking out of turn. Her comments should have been spoken during the public hearing portion of the item. But the point is that it happened. And instead of gaveling her down or insisting she take her seat, Lindsay staff decided to omit her comments altogether. For a government at any level to redact the official record of an unequivocal public meeting is wrong and the very thing governments are not supposed to be: opaque.