Antioch Council opposes returning to public comments via Zoom

Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker speaks on teleconferencing as District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica listens during the city council meeting on Sept. 26, 2023. Video screenshot.

Joins other cities in ending the practice to avoid hate speech, abuse

Torres-Walker blames politics for fellow councilmembers’ votes; Barbanica calls her comment “ridiculous”

East County Rabbi responds to hate speech during Brentwood Council meeting

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, the Antioch City Council by a vote of 3-1-1 decided to not return to allowing call-in public comments via Zoom the same night the Brentwood City Council received a call filled with anti-semitic hate speech.

Antioch joins other cities throughout the state ending the remote public comments due to the abuse of the medium which increased in use during the response to COVID. But Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker who voted against the motion wasn’t happy about it and accused her fellow council members of voting based on politics, with District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson, who voted to abstain, running for State Assembly, District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica running for County Supervisor and Mayor Lamar Thorpe facing re-election next year. (District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock’s seat is up for election next year, as well but she can’t run for it, as she was moved into District 4 due to gerrymandering during last year’s council redistricting process).

Following public comments on the item, Torres-Walker was the only council member to speak on the matter arguing in favor of allowing public comments via teleconferencing. (See 3:09:30 mark of meeting video)

“I keep asking for it to come back. If the council has to be here, the council has to be here. We ran to show up and there’s a large public that want to be here. There are rules that have been made up as we go. There’s a large part of the public that can’t be here in person”

“If we can’t take time to listen to the people whose business we’re doing then none of us should be up here. So, I think at least the public should be able to participate and teleconference in,” Torres-Walker said.

“I sat here for almost three years with people calling in over Zoom calling me everything but a child of God, grossly misinformed all the time, and I was told to get a thick skin. Nobody wanted to vote to take teleconferencing away until they started experiencing that same backlash. Now, it’s like if someone wants to talk crap to me they gotta show up in person. They should be able to use teleconferencing to do it and we all need to get a thick skin…and we should bring teleconferencing back for the public.”

“We are not making up rules as they go along. They’ve been written in the agenda for some time,” Thorpe responded. “Not making two comments at the meeting was pointed out by the City Clerk’s Office. We just didn’t enforce the rule and I was pointed out that we needed to enforce the rule by the City Clerk’s Office.”

Barbanica then moved approval, seconded by Ogorchock to continue holding city council, board and commission meetings in person without teleconferencing. Without any further discussion, the motion was adopted.

But it was at the end of the meeting, during the Council Communications and Future Agena Items portion, that Torres-Walker took a swipe at her fellow council members for their decision saying, “I’ve always been against ending teleconferencing. Because no matter whether I like to hear what the public has to say or not, I listen. Tonight, I think what we just saw was like, replay this because you just got to see people say they don’t want to hear you. And so, because we are coming up on an election year, they’re going to want to hear from you when they’re knocking on your doors, canvassing your neighborhood and they’re going to want to have your vote when you go to the ballot. So, I’m going to keep asking for this to keep coming back whether we vote for it or not.” She asked for the matter to return to a future council meeting agenda for further discussion. (See 3:36:04 mark of meeting video)

Her accusation didn’t sit well with Barbanica, who said later, “That was a ridiculous comment by her. Absolutely ridiculous. Let’s not allow people to abuse the system and target people.”

“So, if Tamisha doesn’t get her way, she’s going to weaponize others of us running for office?” he asked. “We never did that to her. I could not believe she made that statement.”

“As she was making that statement, the Brentwood Council fell victim to exactly the reason we made the decision to not to return to public comments by Zoom. It was abused,” the District 3 Councilman continued. “We had people appearing to be intoxicated, singing, using profanity. There are other cities that are having religious groups, etcetera being singled out. I was told by city administration that other cities have experienced people going on Zoom making pro-Nazi, anti-semitic comments, faking their names, using names of famous Nazis. That was the exact thing we were concerned with.”

“It was done during COVID when people couldn’t attend meetings in person,” he explained. “This has nothing to do with elections. We are still making sure people are heard. To sit at home and hide behind your keyboard and use Zoom as a weapon to spread hate speech and your own personal hate was never the intent.”

“Lamar and I had it happen to us during subcommittee meetings,” Barbanica shared. “They tried to put photographs up on the screen. We killed it. But it showed me right there how people have abused the system. When I was at Cal Cities, they had a talk about it, that people were weaponizing it for their own hate speech.”

Racist Comments on Zoom Call-In During Brentwood Council Meeting

An Oct. 1st tweet on X by the Brentwood Press confirmed Barbanica’s comment. It reads, “at our City Council meeting (Tuesday) night, a man called in to talk about kosher soap developed in Germany. He was cut off as this comment did not seem to be on topic, and he yelled, ‘Heil Hitler! White Power!’ before hanging up.” A resident submitted a letter to the editor decrying the hate speech.

According to an Oct. 4 ContraCosta.News report, Brentwood Mayor Joel Bryant apologized to the public for hearing the comment and Brentwood City Manager Tim Ogden issued a statement condemning the hate speech.

Brentwood Rabbi Responds

In response to the comments made during the Brentwood City Council meeting, Rabbi Peretz Goldshmid, Director of Chabad of the Delta said, “When it’s dark outside you don’t need to be told you need a flashlight. This is the time to call for everyone to stand up and say something positive in response.”

“When one idiot talks, we need a thousand people to stand up and respond. Instead of the story being hate speech it should be about the thousand people offering good speech,” he continued. “The only way to stop the damage is with positivity in general and specifically about this incident.”

Peretz issued the following statement on Oct. 4:

“Positivity is the best weapon against antisemitism. Such awful sentiments must be responded to! Every individual, and especially those with a platform, should make a clear statement that we do not accept such behavior and that, on the contrary, we stand with the Jewish community and all that stands for good.

When we do, the attempted attacker will learn that negativity will always be met with an outpouring of positivity. So, I invite you to be part of the positive response! 

It is also important to remember that antisemitism is not just a problem for the Jewish community. It is a problem for all of us. When we stand up against antisemitism, we stand up for justice and equality for all people.”

Walnut Creek City Council Also Ends Remote Public Comments Remote public comments during Walnut Creek City Council meetings were also discontinued City Manager Dan Buckshi announced during his report on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. He said council meeting public comments have been hijacked throughout the state

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Torres-Walker speaks on teleconferencing 09-26-23

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