Councilman Scott Peotter’s comments opposing gay marriage are causing the biggest stir in Newport Beach since former Councilman Dick Nichols infamously stuck his foot in his mouth 12 years ago.
That thought crossed my mind as I sat in Tuesday’s special City Council meeting, where impassioned residents spoke out against Peotter’s controversial email. In it, he expressed opposition to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage and questioned the LGBT movement’s use of the rainbow flag.
I remembered the uproar back in 2003, when Nichols remarked that too many “Mexicans” visit the grassy area near the beach in Corona del Mar.
Nichols’ statement embarrassed the city and outraged many.
We’re back in the same boat.
During the packed council meeting, many spoke of being proud of their gay daughters and sons.
Gay married residents wanted Peotter to know them. Others called for the council to take diversity training.
Some cautioned that statements on gay marriage could promote school bullying toward LGBT children. One mother told of how her gay son was bullied and then took his own life.
Only a few spoke in favor of Peotter.
His council allies indicated little. Councilman Marshall Duffield remained expressionless. Councilman Kevin Muldoon kept looking down.
Mayor Ed Selich and Councilmen Keith Curry and Tony Petros were the only members who engaged with speakers.
This was a pivotal leadership moment for this council, whose only purpose that night was to make a resolution clarifying that council members’ personal opinions remain just that — and not be clouded by color of authority. It had nothing to do with curbing free speech, which Peotter and his supporters claimed.
Petros spoke eloquently about being a man of faith and objected to Peotter’s email content, which suggested there would be hell to pay following the Supreme Court decision.
“I do find it interesting that the homosexual movement adopted the rainbow as their symbol, as it was God’s symbol that he wouldn’t destroy the world by flood again,” Peotter wrote in his email newsletter. "… maybe they are wishful thinking.”
Petros physically turned his chair so his back faced Peotter as Peotter spoke.
“I just couldn’t take anymore,” Petros explained later.
Selich balanced his support of the resolution, reassuring that the city welcomes all people.
Curry came out guns blazing, denouncing Peotter for this email and others in which he used the city seal to express personal, not citywide, views.
The surprise here was Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon. Though she voted for the resolution along with Curry, Selich and Petros, she made no statement denouncing Peotter’s criticism of gay marriage.
I felt that spoke volumes.
Duffield and Muldoon voted no, as did Peotter. Neither said a word condemning the mess. One can only take their lack of action as a vote of confidence in Peotter.
I emailed Duffield, Muldoon and Dixon on Friday asking for them to explain their silence but didn’t hear back.
When Peotter finally spoke, I felt he was unrepentant.
“It was never my intent to inflame the community,” he said. “I never had any intention to hurt anybody. I was stating an opinion on a very prominent issue of the day.”
He threw a grenade over a fence and didn’t expect to blow things up?
I believe he knew exactly what would happen.
Though many called for his resignation, they shouldn’t hold their collective breath.
The City Council can only remove a fellow member if that member is convicted of a felony.
The only remedy for residents is a recall, and it’s not as complex as you might think.
It all starts with a trip to the city clerk’s office.
First, the proponent of the recall serves the recall target and files notice of intention with the city clerk within seven days.
Then a notice of intention must be published.
The target has seven days to file an answer to the recall charges with the city clerk.
Next, the proponent has to file proof of publication of the notice within 10 days of the recall target filing an answer. The proponent also has to submit two blank petitions to the city clerk.
The next step is circulating a recall petition, which only Newport Beach voters can do, and it requires the signatures of 15% of the city’s registered voters gathered in a 160-day time frame. In Newport there are an estimated 53,000 voters, so petitioners would be wise to get about 10,000 signatures.
Those signatures are sent to the clerk, who has 30 days to certify them.
Then the Newport council would have to certify the petition and call for an election.
The nomination process for new candidates would begin, and then an election would be held not less than 88 or more than 125 days after the City Council calls for an election.
Maybe it’s time to clean house in Newport again.
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.