Antioch Council votes unanimously to remove Chair Turnage from Planning Commission

Antioch Mayor Sean Wright (center) leads the special meeting on Friday, May 1, 2020 as the other council members and city staff listen. Video screenshot from City of Antioch website.

Ken Turnage,II on the night he was honored as the 2015 Citizen of the Year for Most Impact. From his Facebook page.

By Allen Payton

During a special meeting of the Antioch City Council on Friday night, May 1, 2020, Planning Commission Chair Kenny Turnage was removed from the commission on a unanimous, 5-0 vote to following his strong comments defending what he wrote on Facebook, last week, as well as the comments of over 90 members of the public. (See related articles, here and here).

The item was presented by City Attorney Thomas Smith,

“The legal standards required to remove a commissioner is a majority vote of the city council. Commission members serve at the pleasure of the council,” he said. “I did see some communications of a possibility of censure. It’s an official rebuke chastising the act of a city official. I haven’t found that censure has been used in the City of Antioch. That is one option out there, as well…. I want you to be aware of all your options.”

“We are here on this item with deliberations for some comments that were made on social media that have come to light,” Wright said.

“We have 92 emails that need to be read,” said City Clerk Arne Simonsen. “We might want to have a time limit on those.”

“I’d like to hear from Kenny Turnage, first,” Wright responded.

Turnage then offered his comments. (Following is a verbatim copy):

“To the Mayor and Council,

After many years of service to the City in both the private and public sectors, it is disheartening that you are considering removing me from the Planning Commission due to a personal opinion that I posted on my personal Facebook page. My personal opinion had nothing to do with the City or my position on the Planning Commission. So to try to somehow link them or create a nexus to further your political agendas is shameful.

My personal opinion was offered in an attempt to spark a debate, like I have done many times before. It is based on the theory of Ecological Balance which is science. Yes I do understand that it is a difficult topic and thus I prefaced it by stating that if people are unable to handle an alternative opinion to not read any further.

The idea of letting Nature run its course was practiced by Sweden and at first The World Health Organization was strictly against it! However, as of yesterday, The World Health Organization says we should learn from Sweden! Ironic, isn’t it?

This Virus is targeting certain sectors of the World. I did not decide these sectors or create this Virus. I merely spoke on what could potentially happen to those sectors plus others including myself. Yes, my analogies in hindsight could have been different to make the same point, for that I am sorry but hindsight is 20/20.

Being removed from the Planning Commission because my opinion is not liked or agreed with is not a fair reason to be removed. In fact, in a Country where we value free speech it’s unconscionable! It sends the message that only like-minded people can serve this City. That, in my opinion, is a very dangerous road for this Counsel to go down and everyone in this City should be very concerned. Having it viewed as offensive speech then targeting me with repercussion for this is a direct violation of my First Amendment Rights and should NOT happen under our Constitution!

At this time I would like to make a formal records request of all documents that pertain to this matter to include but not limited to e-mails, text messages, recorded phone conversations etc. between and amongst Council Members and City Staff related to my personal post and development of this agenda, and the subsequent recommendation to remove me from this position. The fact that during a Council Meeting a non-agendized item was discussed openly is a violation of the Brown Act. So yes, you may not like me expressing an opinion you do not like, but you have violated the law!

If you are going to punish someone for having an opinion other than yours then our Constitutional Republic is going to Die! I would like to say that at some point it would be nice if certain council members stop race baiting to further their political agendas. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Please hold yourself to at least the modicum of the standard you expect of the volunteers such as myself who are willing to try and help this City. Otherwise, I fear there is little hope for its future.

In closing its hard to believe that all of you have come to my house when I have opened my home at my own expense to do fundraisers for elderly, our youth and other at risk demographics. Now publicly you are taking these actions when you personally know me better. Its nice to see that opportunity lives here as long as you share the Councils opinion!

Respectfully,

Ken Turnage II”

Public Comments

The council agreed to reduce the time limit of the public comments to one minute each from the usual three minutes.

Two people called in with their comments.

“You have no business holding any kind of office in the United States of America,” said Leslie, a member of the county Mental Health Commission.

Gary Walker said “I’m kind of embarrassed I’m calling in on something that’s negatively reflecting our city. I wasn’t able to read his Facebook post. But I read the letter that the mayor had asked him to resign. I do agree…I have heard of censorship, as well. But I do believe you should continue along the path you’re moving.” His comments were cut short due to the time limit.

Written comments were read next, most of which were in favor of removing Turnage from his position.

Mary Dunrose wrote that he “needs to be removed…for sociopathic world views. He believes all seniors should be dead. He’s a…lawsuit case waiting to happen. The council needs to remove…this abomination of a human being.”

Sal Sbranti wrote, “I have known Ken Turnage since I joined a service club in Antioch in 2015. We donated a TV for the senior center…Ken put it up. I know this man. I respect this man. I believe Monica, Joy and Lamar feel he is a threat if he gets elected. That’s why Monica, Joy and Lamar are trying to get rid of him.”

Ron Zaragoza wrote, “Society has become much too quick to demonize each other. I say we spend more time honestly…listening to each other peacefully.”

Jack Bruckman wrote, “Our chair of the planning commission doesn’t get to have it both ways. If I have to watch what I write for my job, so should he.”

Charleen Rednour wrote, “I am horrified…obviously this man believes in Nazi genocide.”

Beverly Knight wrote, “When I was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission I didn’t know to participate on boards and commissions for the City of Antioch you must give up your freedom of speech. Nor was I told the City of Antioch would scrutinize my social media posts. We do not represent the City of Antioch. We represent the community to the city. I believe you are infringing on his freedom of speech.”

“Once again, the City of Antioch is trying to punish a volunteer because they don’t agree with someone. While I don’t agree with what Mr. Turnage wrote…he was not writing as a city official. At least with Mr. Turnage you see what you get,” wrote one member of the public.

“Ken Turnage II is a very sick, despicable human being who needs counseling…send this mentally ill psychopath home, immediately,” wrote another member of the public who described herself as a senior.

“Mr. Turnage made clear he was not acting on behalf of the city,” wrote another. “City employees and representatives don’t leave their freedom of speech rights at the door.”

Manual Sidrian wrote, “I believe the agenda item is in retaliation to what Mr. Turnage said in a podcast, last month, regarding the homeless. We used to have a law, no loitering. Why can’t we use that same law for the homeless? We can help those who want help.”

Richard Miller wrote, “The coronavirus statements made by Mr. Turnage are reprehensible, uneducated. Please remove him from his post.”

George Matthews wrote, “Being a public official he has a duty to filter his personal opinion. But, I don’t believe he should be removed.”

Candace Ireland wrote, “Ken Turnage…is the only one who is doing anything to benefit the city

I can’t stand a single word that comes out of Lamar Thorpe’s mouth. But I don’t mount a smear campaign against him. (I have the utmost respect for Ken but none for you.”

Patrick Scott wrote, “I believe this action is totally unwarranted. Some of Mr. Turnage’s comments are politically incorrect. Rebuke him publicly. This is not a political or racial issue…that was presented in one council member’s statement.”

Michael Pohl wrote, “I do not agree with the removal of Mr. Turnage from the planning commission. Has the council provided any guideline? Will we start investigating all commissioners?”

Lucille Meinhardt wrote, “I’m asking you to preserve a person’s freedom of speech. His post is not racist or hate speech.”

Desiree Rushing wrote, “I am a first responder and respiratory therapist. My only response is…all lives matter.”

Joshua Young wrote, “Mr. Turnage has served the community greatly over the countless years. We live in a society in which everyone has the freedom of speech. It is your duty…to uphold the Constitution. No longer continue down this path of censorship. This is…politically motivated.”

Warren Lutz wrote, “I am confident the city council tonight will find Ken Turnage unfit and will remove him from the planning commission. I would urge you to go one step further. For 20 years he has been an outside contractor for Code Enforcement for the City of Antioch.” His comments were cut off due to time.

“What if I tell you one member on the council will have his own planet when he dies? Would you think that was extreme,” wrote another member of the public.

“If the commissioner was a city employee the council would be in violation of (state) law,” wrote another. “I do not agree with the commissioner’s comments. But, it did not rise to the level of violence against any group or individual.”

Nicole Sedano wrote, “Just because you don’t agree with someone’s opinion doesn’t give you the right to smear them. Monica Wilson, you should be ashamed of yourself. You deflect on others to hide the skeletons in your own closet. I believe you’re doing this because Mr. Turnage is going to run against you.”

Another wrote of “Ken Turnage enjoying white male privilege all his life” and the “exploited underclass.” “He should go forth to a hot spot and expose himself (to the virus).”

Mark Jordan wrote, “I have taken a pause before writing to you.  I wish sincerely that Ken Turnage had taken a pause before making his Facebook post. I do not believe that you should remove Mr. Turnage from his position with the planning commission.  A censure is more in order. Let us all rise above the moment of heated anger and outrage and allow ourselves a moment of pause.  Censure is a more equitable resolution.”

“This is shameful and a black mark on Antioch. The world is watching. Please do the right thing,” wrote another member of the public.

“He has a right to make that statement. Leave him the h**l alone,” wrote one man.

Jenny Osgood wrote, “I find Ken Turnage’s comments…very troubling. Mr. Turnage needs to resign his position.”

“These kind of Malthusian Theory comments are dangerous,” wrote another member of the public.

A 78-year-old resident wrote, “Am I now expendable? Ken Turnage must resign, or we will become a laughingstock.”

“I believe he has watched Logan’s Run too many times,” wrote another person.

“While Mr. Turnage’s comments are protected as freedom of speech, they were really Hitlerish,” wrote one woman.

“Ken Turnage should be fired. He has shown disrespect for the elderly,” wrote another.

April Meyers wrote, “I am neither elderly nor weak. But I am immunocompromised…I take exception to anyone who thinks I’m expendable.”

Utah resident Melissa Marlow wrote, “The outrage I felt…was pretty hard to describe. This person cannot…be in any position. I would hope his neighbors run him out of town.”

“I am the mother of a son who is immunocompromised…to hear that Ken thinks his life is expendable…he’s not worthy of the office,” wrote another woman.

Mary Owen wrote, “Do Mr. Turnage’s comments…accurately represent the views of Antioch. We will be watching…and hope you do the right thing and remove this racist…”

Michael Gadams wrote, “Please do your best to take the politics out of your decision. I’m sure Ken regrets what he wrote in hindsight. Offer to send him to some class on leadership. To punish him in a public forum will be a loss for all of us. Kenny is a good man…his heart is in the right place.”

“We are not a herd. We are a community of families…” wrote one woman.

“His comments were clear. Do the right thing and fire him,” yet another woman wrote.

Robert Michael Jordan wrote, “If I were you, I’d be embarrassed to have Mr. Turnage on the Planning Commission. Remove…this harmful clod.”

“He should take the opportunity to apologize for his comments. The internet is forever,” wrote a man who claimed he was a senior.

Alma Townsend wrote, “What happened to freedom of speech? No need to take it out on Kenny”

Former Antioch School Board Member Dale Hudson wrote, “I’m so shocked to read the comments by Ken Turnage. I also thought what planning capacity does he have? It worked for Adolph Hitler for a few years. At the moment, I do not have confidence…in the City of Antioch. But it will be restored if you remove Ken Turnage.”

“You and your council should do the right thing and allow Ken Turnage to continue his service…(and end) this ignorant witch hunt,” one man wrote.

Mark Coates wrote, “Ken Turnage needs to go. I am 66 years old so, I guess I’m one of the people that needs to go. I think not.”

Christina Burton wrote, “He would make Adolph Hitler proud. Out with him.”

“Make Antioch a better place for everyone, except Ken Turnage,” wrote one man.

Ella Williams wrote, “I feel threatened by Mr. Turnage’s comments…I am appalled…there is so much hate in those comments.”

“I… disagree he should be removed from his position. I definitely did not see any racial undertone,” wrote one man. “I ask you to consider some lesser action.”

Former Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando called in and said, “I would just like to call a point of order. During normal council meetings…because this is a special meeting with no other things on the agenda. I would like to have the opportunity to read my comments because they are three minutes because there was no advanced notice.”

“Unfortunately, the decision…was made at the beginning of the meeting. We are not able to give him additional time,” said City Attorney Smith. “He is limited to a minute.”

“I’m shocked that we would limit free speech to one minute…I can’t believe we are at this point. Mr. Turnage made his comment as a personal perspective and never related it to the City of Antioch. Mr. Thorpe has pictures on his Facebook page…advocating for human trafficking and objectifying women. Are you going to be asking for his resignation? Let’s call this what it is a political attack on Mr. Turnage. A certain faction of the City Council are concerned that Mr. Turnage will get Ms. Wilson’s seat because in her two terms in office, she has done very little.”

“Should Kenny Turnage be removed from the planning commission for his comments? No. Should you comment about his Facebook post? Yes. Kenny Turnage is a good guy,” wrote another man.

“I think it’s horrible what you’re doing to Kenny. He said ‘let nature take it’s course’. I can’t wait until November. I hope he runs for mayor,” wrote one woman.

Two other people offered their one minute to speak to former police chief Allan Cantando.

“If you’re going to remove Ken Turnage, I want to remove Sean Wright for posting overly religious comments on his Facebook page,” wrote one member of the public.

Cecilia Perez wrote, “I felt compelled to write in. This conversation is not about free speech of the community’s opinion of Ken Turnage. This is about holding officials accountable. Removing him from this public post does not take away his ability to speak freely.”

A variety of comments received from people outside of Antioch also condemned Turnage’s Facebook post and all called for his removal.

Council Discussion and Vote

The council then took up the matter for discussion.

Wright asked the city attorney, “is this a free speech issue?”

“What I believe you’re hearing from the comments, the focus of this issue is…what have these comments had on the community,” Smith said. “This has incited an impact. You as policy makers have to determine what impact it has…to effectively make decisions for the community.”

“The individual is beyond the grasp of the public…” Ultimately a position that a commissioner is in, they got their power through the public. You have to decide what you hear from the public, there is a call to accountability. He is safely sheltered behind the elected officials in Antioch and only the elected officials can decide how this matter can be handled.”

Council Member Lamar Thorpe said, “This is an unfortunate situation. It was not an easy decision on your part. You have brought us here, today and you have my support. I had written out a whole lot as to it relates to my experience of four years ago (when he was removed from the EDC). I wrote down the phrase ‘loss of confidence.’ I expected to hear remorse. The public was incensed by his comments. What we’re talking about here is life and death. I’m insulted by some of the comments. I’m saddened by the comments about Mr. Turnage’s character. I don’t believe those to be true.”

He then made a motion to remove Turnage. Council Member Monica Wilson seconded it.

Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts spoke next saying, “It’s extremely unfortunate that we’re here, tonight… I would be remiss to not mention Ken’s work and dedication to the Antioch community and our local service organizations that support our youth, schools, senior community and our community celebrations and for that I am appreciative. I personally found his post abhorrent, absurd and devoid of any science, healthcare or economic fact. We are all vulnerable. The impact of Planning Commission Chair Turnage statements on his Facebook post have caused unnecessary damage during a time of extreme difficulty for this community, state and our nation as we deal with the extreme consequences, loss of life, severe illness and economic fallout.”

“Council members and I have received comments from all over the United States calling for his removal,” she continued. “I find it difficult to believe he can continue to have the confidence of the public. I have heard nothing tonight to lead me in a different direction. I will support your recommendation, Mr. Mayor.”

Council Member Lori Ogorchock asked, “how do we mentor commission members?”

“Each of the department heads run those commissions,” said Mayor Wright.

“Each of the commissions are trained by the departments that work with the commission,” City Manager Ron Bernal agreed.

“Planning Commissioners are sent to the Planning Commission Conference” that lasts three days, said Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs. “Anything beyond that is usually technical training.”

“A lot of comments have been made about thee reflection on the city,” Ogorchock stated. “Do we share with them what they post on their social media page that it will reflect on the entire city?”

“We as staff, we don’t have that kind of communication with commissioners,” Ebbs said. “There’s opportunities to learn and embrace what the current practices are.”

“This whole process is very destructive for the city,” Ogorchock said then listed the positive things Turnage has done for the community. “The first thing that Chairman Turnage said…’this post will probably anger some’. He knew his comments would offend some people. Most of the calls that I have received were from the elderly. They don’t feel they want to be a burden to anyone.”

“I truly don’t believe Chairman Turnage would know the impact of his words…and how they would affect the city and individuals,” she added.

“Those two statements that you read shows that he did know what the impact of his statement would be” responded City Attorney Smith.

“Mr. Mayor I support that you’ve brought this forward,” Wilson said. “I don’t have anything to add to my comments on Tuesday night.”

“As individuals in a democracy, freedom of speech of individuals is held in high value.  We are here tonight because city officials are held to a higher standard,” Wright said. “When our words as public servants undermine the city’s overall position and cause the citizens to lose confidence in us, especially during a pandemic when people are losing their lives and families are victim to illness, it is something that must be examined.”

“As the Mayor of the City of Antioch, I want to say to every single citizen that you matter.  That your life, your job, and your business are important to me,” the mayor continued. “We will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to support your businesses.”

“We cannot ignore that the world is facing something that we have never seen before.  And the only way out of this crisis is to support one another – with our words and our actions,” Wright concluded.

He then called for a roll call vote and each council member gave a voice vote in favor of removing Turnage from the commission.

He then called for a roll call vote and each council member gave a voice vote in favor of removing Turnage from the commission.

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the attachments to this post:


Ken Turnage 2015 Citizen of the Year 4-16-16


Council meeting screenshot 05-01-20


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