Although the city of Hanford’s attempts to silence an outspoken planning commission member may be interpreted as a violation of his free speech, the city attorney Ty Mizote said Jason Kemp Van Ee was reprimanded for inaccurate and possibly biased statements on social media.
Jason Kemp Van Ee decided to resign without taking legal action. Though he had reached out to a First Amendment lawyer he did not explain why he did not pursue litigation.
In sympathy, Roger Snow also resigned from the planning commission which is regarded by some as the city’s most important commission.
Kemp Van Ee received a warning letter from Mizote regarding his comments on Facebook. Mizote said his comments were inaccurate and possibly biased.
The letter reprimanding Kemp Van Ee was initiated by city manager Mario Cifuentes and Mayor Francisco Ramirez. Ramirez and City Council member Kalish Morrow provided copies of Kemp Van Ee’s allegedly racists and false Facebook posts to Mizote.
Kemp Van Ee was not reprimanded for being critical of the city, said Mizote. It was because of the false and possibly biased statements that could expose the city to litigation.
As a result of Kemp Van Ee’s social media posts, the city council scheduled an agenda item at its July 20 meeting to consider the possible removal of Kemp Van Ee.
“It is unfortunate we have a council that instead of working to improve our community, such as I have sworn an oath to do, would rather personally attack me as a personal agenda because of my criticism of their work and handling of the city,” Kemp Van Ee wrote in a July 12 letter to City Manager Mario Cifuentez, City Attorney Mizote, and Hanford City Council members.
“I understand that my posts on social media can be considered unorthodox and possibly offensive; however, I continue to stand by them.”
Kemp Van Ee said on Facebook that the city council was a “clown show” because of its handling of sexual harassment claim by then Community Development Director Darlene Mata against Council Member Art Brieno.
“When this circus starts to stand up and support their employees, they will no longer be classified as clown show,” Kemp Van Ee said in a Facebook post. He was critical of the council reinstating Brieno after he resigned following the controversy over Mata’s claims.
Kemp Van Ee has said that he intends to run for Brieno’s seat when Brieno’s term expires in November 2022.
Free speech rights were also mentioned in Snow’s resignation letter. He voiced some of the same concerns as Kemp Van Ee’s.
“Commissioners should be able to to (sic) speak freely about social issues. Our viewpoints or disagreements should not be used to remove a Commissioner from a Commission,” said Snow in a July 12 letter. “Commissioners should be able to disagree and post their views without fear of retaliation and removal from office. Commissioners should be able to speak out against City Council Members and City Staff.”
Snow said another reason for his resignation is “the Planning Commission should be advised with the same assistance as to how to vote against the issue as when the Commission is voting as advised by the City. This does not happen now, nor does it seem to be welcomed.”
Snow said that he was upset that resigning from the planning commission was his only recourse to protest the treatment of Kemp Van Ee. He said he intended on taking a more active role in city affairs as a city resident.