MCC questions right of Chair Neil Merrilees to identify himself as Chair of the MCC

A seemingly enraged Leonard Woren chastises MCC Chair Neil Merrilees for having identified himself as a member of the MCC in an op-ed endorsing a candidate for the Board of Supervisors. The video, which is edited from the full meeting video, runs about twelve minutes.

The Midcoast Community Council engaged in a bit of high drama this past week at their regularly scheduled meeting.

At the suggestion of council member David Vespremi the MCC adopted a “urgency measure”–a procedural method to place emergency items on the agenda without going through the usual Brown Act requirements of prior notice to the public.

The crisis? An op-ed written by Chair Neil Merrilees endorsing Don Horsley for Board of Supervisors had the text “The letter writer is the Chair of the Midcoast Council” written underneath Neil’s name.

Vespremi felt that the text might give the reader the false impression that the MCC as a body had endorsed the candidate. He was joined in his concern by MCC members Deborah Lardie and Leonard Woren and also by activist Sabrina Brennan who was vocal in the discussion.

Brennan went so far as to claim that the publishing of the sentence was a crime, apparently based upon Bush-era Executive Orders. Woren emotionally criticized the letter and Merrilees as chair and made threats to write his own letter or to author one on behalf of the MCC.

Woren did come prepared with draft letter to the editor of the San Mateo County Journal, where the Merrilees op-ed appeared, which pointed out that the endorsement was not made by the MCC.

Soon-to-be MCC member Bill Kehoe expressed astonishment that the MCC was wasting its time on such an issue, called upon Brennan to cite the law that she felt was being broken, and pointed out that nowhere in the letter did Merrilees suggest that it was the MCC as a body that was making the endorsement.

A brief review of op-eds in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and the Half Moon Bay found numerous instances of op-eds with authors from elected bodies and other institutions with nearly identical texts beneath their name.

Indeed, a letter from Supervisor Rich Gordon from a few years ago, which questioned the relevancy of the Midcoast Council and which wondered aloud whether it should be dissolved, identified the author as a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. It seemed to be understood at the time that Gordon was not speaking for the Supervisors as a group.

Jon Mays, the editor of the San Mateo Daily Journal was puzzled by the uproar. Saying that this was the first time he has encountered the issue Mays wrote in response to questions from Montara Fog that “including the line should not imply the council’s thoughts were the same as his since it was signed by him and not by the council.” Separately he wrote, “The identifying information does not imply endorsement of the group, it simply states that the person is a member or affiliated with it.”

Merriless, during the meeting, appeared to take the tension in stride, repeatedly reminding MCC members that they were free to write their own letters. Vice-Char Len Erickson seemed to see the entire discussion as out of line from a procedural point of view.

Toward the end of the meeting, after Deborah Lardie stressed that no laws had been broken, no policies ignored, that the matter was just one of Neil offering proper courtesy to the other members of the Council, Erickson expressed astonishment that such a trivial matter had been brought up under the urgency rules.

In the end the Council passed a motion 3-2 to send a letter to the editor of the San Mateo Daily Journal informing him that the Council did not endorse Don Horsely.

Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect name for the publication in which Merrilees’ op-Ed appeared. The publication is the San Mateo Daily Journal.

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