July 10, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
- Several members of the public were present to object to council member Diane Pearce’s remarks on social media discouraging people from visiting the public library because she opposed the display of LGBTQ books for children during Pride month. Mayor Ashbeck reprimanded Pearce for making the public remarks and for other behavior that she regarded as inappropriate for a representative of the city of Clovis. Ashbeck said that Pearce’s actions had upset city staff and had angered other council members.
- The subject of the city’s lost appeal in their affordable housing lawsuit appeared again on the closed session agenda. The city is attempting “depublication” of the loss, which would mean the case could not be cited as precedent and create the perception that the decision has been censored.
Council and Staff
Lynne Ashbeck, mayor
Vong Mouanoutoua, mayor pro tem
Drew Bessinger, council member
Matt Basgall, council member
Diane Pearce, council member
John Holt, city manager
Andy Haussler, assistant city manager ABSENT
Scott Cross, city attorney
Karey Cha, city clerk
The Clovis City Council met on July 10, 2023, for the only meeting of the month before taking their summer break. At 6:01 p.m., Mayor Ashbeck noted Council Member Mouanoutoua’s absence and said that they would start without him, though she expected him to come “screeching in” at any moment. Council Member Pearce led the flag salute with a “ready—salute.” Mouanoutoua arrived as City Clerk Cha was calling the roll. Only Assistant City Manager Haussler was absent.
The agenda was unusually short, owing to the upcoming summer break, and the meeting lasted only about an hour and 10 minutes. However, the meeting was notably intense and emotional because most of that time was spent by members of the public present to object to a deeply provocative remark made by Pearce on her Facebook page. Ashbeck’s reprimanding of Pearce’s behavior was equally intense. In the council chamber were about 20 people; 44 people watched via YouTube, and there were about five people attending via Webex.
There are several ways to participate in the council’s meetings: in person, you may comment on specific agenda matters as they are discussed, or on those not on an agenda at the scheduled time. Just show up. Commenters are limited to 5 minutes each. Note that laws regarding public meetings preclude council members from making definitive responses about matters that are not on the agenda. You can also call in to a Webex when the meeting is in progress, or you can submit a written comment. Easy instructions are found here.
All council members are elected at large; none represent specific districts of Clovis. To contact any of them with questions or to comment about issues, phone 559-324-2060 (one phone for all) or email:
Lynne Ashbeck firstname.lastname@example.org
Vong Mouanoutoua email@example.com
Matt Basgall firstname.lastname@example.org
Drew Bessinger email@example.com
Diane Pearce firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the public may attend meetings at the Council Chamber, 1033 Fifth St., Clovis, CA 93612, or online via Webex. For the next several weeks the council will be on summer break; the next meeting will be Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.
Public Comments regarding items not on the agenda. Ashbeck seemed to know what most members of the public were there to speak about, and asked for a show of hands of people who wanted to speak about the “library” issue, the subject of Pearce’s provocative remark.
Only two people were there to speak on other subjects, so Ashbeck asked them to go first.
The first speaker was Charles Bough, who has often appeared before the council; last December, for example, he sang a Christmas song in lieu of commenting. Today, he was angry about the design of the new senior center. When he sees it, he thinks, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” because it’s “the ugliest building in California.” The building was “horrific,” he said, and reminded him of the last scene of the movie “Gladiator.” He suggested removing, after one year, the section of corrugated metal, salvaged from the lumber company building originally on the site, and installed as a decorative feature on the new building, and replacing it with colorful ceramics so the building would be “pretty.” He then switched subjects and talked about slurry seal being applied to his street when, according to him, it was unnecessary. Ashbeck advised him of his 5-minute limit as he talked on. The slurry was the cause of the destruction of cars’ “suspensions,” he said several times. He then named a number of roads and rated them all on his own scale of 1 to 5.
The next commenter was David Flum, who spoke about the difference between “slurry seals” and “chip seals.” He called it a “huge, huge issue” and said that “Clovis has destroyed our streets,” ending each sentence with “all right?” The streets are “a mess, all right?” “It’s like wet asphalt, all right?” Ashbeck thought she had met Flum before, and he reminded her that she came to his house to inspect his property after he had complained that his hot tub would be observable by residents of a new building whose construction was proposed next door. Some jocular remarks followed.
Before inviting the next set of commenters to the podium, Ashbeck said that 10 written comments had been received, all in opposition to the remarks Pearce had made on her Facebook page (“Diane Pearce – Clovis City Councilmember”) objecting to the availability of pride-themed children’s books in the local library and suggesting that residents avoid the library altogether.
On June 28, toward the end of Pride month, Pearce posted photos of the children’s Pride books displayed in the Clovis branch of the Fresno County Library. She said that Clovis residents “Might want to wait until June is over to take your kids to the Clovis Public Library. FYI, the Clovis City Council has no direct control over this…these are Fresno County Libraries.” In further remarks she said that “you folks [LGBTQ+ people] jumped the shark” and that they were “going after the kids.” The Facebook account is public, and though most of her posts draw comments only in the single digits, this post drew well over 200 comments in opposition to her remarks. Pearce posted a comment saying that she received “countless” remarks in support, but privately.
The first person to comment supported Pearce. He gave his name as Bill Drake and said that the availability of pride books for children was akin to placing “a box of rattlesnakes” in the library. Brains don’t develop until age 25, he said, and “these kids” had a high suicide rate. They “should be out riding bikes and all that kind of stuff” anyway, he said. His speech was rambling, and he went on to describe an imaginary scenario in which passers-by do nothing to help when “big guys” are “over there doing something” to a little kid in the park shrubbery. “The law,” he said, now tells you that you can’t interfere. He said that “they are trying to pass laws” to “force their agenda” on people and “take away kids,” though he cited no actual law or proposed such law; there is no such law.
The next five commenters spoke in opposition to Pearce.
Tracy Bohren, a 20-year Clovis resident, parent and member of the Clovis LGBTQ+ community, said that all residents should be represented equally by council members. The display of books in the library showed inclusivity, “a celebration of diversity,” a show of “support for the LGBTQ community’s valuable contributions to our society,” and a member of the City Council opposed it. She said that she had “complete faith” in professional children’s librarians to curate an age-appropriate display of any kind. “Parents sexualize gender and love,” she said, not children themselves. Harm is perpetuated, Bohren said, when ignorance is enforced. Suicide among LGBTQ youth is not a result of identity crises but of discrimination and social exclusion, she said. Children learn that love is conditional if certain groups are talked about in exclusive terms.
Finally, Bohren said that Pearce’s comments were “hateful and bigoted” and signal that “she will think of and treat us as second-class citizens,” despite the fact that Pearce is sworn to serve everybody.
Jennifer Cruz, a long-time Clovis resident, parent and manager of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC) LGBTQ+ Resource Center, spoke next. She thanked the Clovis branch and county libraries for making the Pride month book selections. She said that Pearce’s comments were dangerous, that they compromised the safety of the library space and that urging constituents to avoid the library promotes fear and misinformation about the LGBTQ+ community. In her job as manager of an LGBTQ+ resource center in downtown Fresno, she “sees the suffering of our community every day,” including the “real-life consequences” of the hatefulness in remarks such as those made by Pearce, Cruz said. She invited all the council to tour the center she manages to see the “life-saving work” done there.
“Affirming language, spaces, books and affirming adults” help prevent youth suicide, she said. Cruz cited some current 500+ anti-LGBTQ laws nationally; “our community is afraid,” she said. She herself, as a “girl with short hair,” has had “security called” when she goes into the Clovis GB3 gym locker room, despite taking the precaution of announcing herself: “Girl with short hair!” Cruz asked the council to hold Pearce accountable for her actions.
Jeni-Ann Kren, a retired Clovis resident and president of the Clovis Democratic Club, noted that a letter to the council had been submitted on behalf of the club. As part of her remarks, she noted that Pearce’s provocative comments had compromised the safety of the community and that residents would now avoid entering the library. She said that Pearce made the objectionable remarks publicly in her official capacity as a council member, causing residents to be afraid to visit their own public library, a “dangerous failure of leadership.” Kren said that Pearce’s fitness as a council member was in question. She continued that “despite Pearce’s continual protestations that she is still ‘new’ to the council, she demonstrates no interest in governing, instead preferring provocation, baiting and intimidation.”
Kren mentioned that Pearce has shown herself to be “unwilling to represent all of Clovis,” citing a previous remark on June 29, also published on Pearce’s Facebook page, which targeted certain members of the school board and the Planning Commission. She also talked about Pearce’s “hostility and antagonism” toward her own colleagues on the council, referring to her recent actions regarding display of the US flag and her disingenuousness about it, which angered the other council members. City leaders should encourage everybody to patronize the library as well as other public spaces and ensure that everyone feels welcome, Kren noted. Kren said that council members should lead by example, modeling collaboration “with common goals in mind.”
David Rowell, an attorney and resident of Clovis since 1991, said that he has long known Pearce as a debate participant on the “Sunday Morning Matters” TV show. He said that he found her to be a “pleasant, well-spoken” and “nice” person, so he wondered if he missed something when he heard about “her recent hurtful comments”; he wondered if she was not the nice person he thought she was. Was she “pretending to be something she wasn’t?” As a member of the City Council, Pearce’s obligation is to serve all residents of Clovis, not simply those she likes or approves of, Rowell said. The comments Pearce made were hurtful and have created rancor among citizens, he added, especially at a time when there is “already way too much hostility over civic events.”
Rowell noted that “it was a very wrong thing to do,” something which “no council member should engage in.” Another possibility, Rowell said, was that Pearce had simply “made a mistake” and encouraged her to say “I was wrong, I shouldn’t have made those comments, and certainly not as a Clovis city council member.” Rowell remarked that Pearce is entitled to her opinions, but as a council member, “she is obligated to promote inclusiveness and welcome for all citizens of the city of Clovis.”
The next speaker, Matthew Vang, 25, called in via Webex. He said that he has lived in Clovis all his life and “as a queer young person” thanked the Clovis public library for featuring the LGBTQ books. He said that such support was “lifesaving.” Why was the suicide rate so high among LGBTQ youth? Because of bullying and discrimination, he said. “Protecting” children begins with talking to LGBTQ+ kids themselves, he noted. Even one affirming book in the Clovis public schools, he said, would have helped him. He quoted a friend, a parent of a trans child, who said that he “would rather see a child change pronouns over and over again than have to read the child’s obituary.”
Ashbeck asked the council if they had comments. Pearce said “I’ll respond,” and Ashbeck cautioned her that “this was not a debate.” However, Pearce, laughingly saying she “had no interest in debate,” read a detailed prepared statement which bolstered, belabored and defended her argument. “This community elected me with resounding support,” she read. “There should not be a single person among the 18,198 [sic] who voted for me who should be surprised.” She actually received about 10,000 votes, roughly just 20% of the total votes cast. She said that representing people “doesn’t mean she agrees” with them, that she “would not stand by and be silent” while children are being “sexualized.” She cited a couple of LGBTQ children’s books and said that “no child can be both boy and girl or the opposite gender that he or she was born.” Anything else was “deception” of children. Opinions of people who approve of the books “do not supersede” those who don’t, she said.
She was only trying to let the disapproving people know about the presence of the books, so they could make “an informed decision,” she said. Despite the earnest, polite and respectful tone of commenters who opposed Pearce’s views, she said, still reading her statement, that no one spoke out publicly in support of her because of “vitriol” directed at them. She had privately received “so many” messages of “support and encouragement” and said that she was being “attacked” by others. She complained about what she called “hate and venom” directed at her, referring to the comments she received in response to her Facebook post, and which diverged from her point of view. “I make no apologies for speaking the truth,” she read; “I will not cower.” Pearce would “continue to support children’s innocence,” and would not “stay silent out of fear.” She encouraged supporters “to stand with me.”
Ashbeck, clearly exasperated and often outraged in her reprimand of Pearce, said to her that “you wouldn’t understand, Diane,” but there are two basic principles by which council members have always conducted themselves: first, weigh in only on issues that affect the jurisdiction of Clovis; second, don’t criticize fellow council members in the press. She said that local government should “stay in its lane.” She told Pearce that “your opinions have no place in building a community.” Ashbeck noted that in the past hour, the council “didn’t make a road better, didn’t hire a police officer,” or the like. She ran through some of Pearce’s greatest hits, such as her comment that “equity is socialism.”
Ashbeck said that Pearce had deeply offended city staff, some of whom are Black or gay or have trans kids. “You didn’t make these folks’ lives better,” Ashbeck told her, adding that “you say ‘my constituents’—you don’t have any, ”because every resident is her constituent. City business does not involve the county library, and Pearce’s behavior was “all for nothing.”
In an interview with GVWire published on July 10, Pearce said she posted the library remarks on Facebook as a “public service”— Ashbeck expressed anger that Pearce had made such a claim as a representative of the city government without sanction from colleagues. “You represent me!” said Ashbeck, clearly outraged, adding that when one council member makes such a public statement, it is made on behalf of the entire council and city staff. She admonished Pearce that she can “talk all you want as an individual,” but not publicly as a representative of the city government. Ashbeck repeated how offended city staff were by Pearce’s behavior and said that it had driven “deeper wedges” than ever before. The purpose of the City Council, Ashbeck said, was to “make people’s lives better in Clovis.” Pearce was simply creating distraction and raising the possibility that “something could happen,” Ashbeck said, suggesting that violence was expected, and that staff were standing by just in case, and it was “all for nothing!”
The city’s jurisdiction covers road paving, ensures that someone comes when you call 911 and your toilet flushes, said Ashbeck, “and that’s about it.” The county library is not within the city’s jurisdiction. Issues that “we can’t control don’t belong in this chamber,” she continued. “Go on KMJ and talk as an individual,” Ashbeck said to Pearce, but don’t speak publicly as a member of the City Council. (Pearce hosts a radio show on KMJ.) “We have families here who like to read those books — let them read ‘em — you don’t have to read them,” she admonished Pearce. Ashbeck said in the last week she had cried, had been angry and was emotional, citing her long investment in serving the community and Pearce’s “disrespect.”
Ashbeck said “to all the people who came tonight” that “we are trying to build a safe and inclusive community” and thanked the members of the public who attended or were present to comment, pointedly thanking Tracy Bohren for raising the issue of Pearce’s commenting publicly as a council member and presuming to comment on behalf of the city — this problem, Ashbeck said, was “the heart of it.” She invited everyone to come back to every Monday night council meeting.
Agenda Items #1-10—Consent Agenda Approved 5-0. The “consent agenda” is a group of items considered routine and not warranting examination, unless they are pulled for discussion by a council member or a member of the public. Most items were “receive and file” reports and the like, but item 9 concerned rejecting a liability claim filed against the city by Bryan Booth, Mason Booth, Ernesto Gonzales Jr. and Manuel Gonzales. Liability claims often appear on the consent agenda, precluding public discussion.
City Manager Comments Holt had none.
Basgall said that he attended a “Cops and Kids Camp” event sponsored by the Clovis Police Department with participation of other city agencies and brought commemorative T-shirts for everyone.
Pearce had no report.
Bessinger said that he attended a League of California Cities meeting in Pomona about public safety. He spoke about receiving complaints from residents about illegal trash dumping. He asked Holt if there was a generic “no dumping” sign that could be posted throughout the city. Holt said there were such signs for private property only, adding that “we’re dealing with it” by being “pro-active after the fact.” Bessinger remarked that he was impressed with the recent water-quality report, that it was “very professional” and that he would post it on his garage wall.
Mouanoutoua spoke for several minutes about a variety of subjects. He attended a Fresno Council of Governments (COG) meeting on June 29. He wanted to publicly thank transportation planner Kristine Cai, who was retiring from COG. Mouanoutoua then talked about Measure C and how polling could determine why people opposed it in the last election. At the meeting, he proposed this idea (“I threw it out there”) but received no response, he said. Then he talked about July 4th fireworks, the entertaining public show and the danger of private fireworks. Mouanoutoua then mentioned the death of Mike Reynolds, who was behind the “3 strikes” crime-sentencing law in California.
Ashbeck remarked that the City Council was now “at risk,” having been “good for 40 years.” Addressing Pearce, she reiterated how upset city staff were made by Pearce’s behavior: “I don’t know if you understand the angst and distraction your comments cause.” Pearce was defensive, interjecting that “I haven’t been disparaging to anyone” and repeating that she “hears from” people that they agree with her and that she feels the need to protect Clovis from the “incredibly negative” impact that “Sacramento” has on the city, though she cited no specific concerns, changing her focus from pride books for children to the state government, which she also doesn’t like. “I haven’t been intolerant; I have experienced it,” she complained.
Ashbeck said that in the past six to seven months, since the installation of Pearce as a council member, “we have let our citizens down,” and that Pearce has only reinforced the long-standing perception that Clovis is an exclusive community. She said that Pearce can “push back” on issues she doesn’t like, but not as a council member. Ashbeck posed a question for City Attorney Scott Cross and Holt: are there standards or restrictions on use of the city logo, for example? (Pearce uses the city logo on her Facebook page.) Ashbeck went on at some length chastising and reprimanding Pearce, telling her that “other people don’t share your truth” and that she would not do something similar to “get a vote.” She repeated that the City Council should stay in its lane and focus on issues such as Measure C, public safety, and the like. The public library was not in the council’s purview, she reiterated.
Pearce continued to respond defensively to Ashbeck, and in response to Pearce’s protests about support for her views, Ashbeck said that “you only hear from people who like you,” just as she (Ashbeck) hears from people who agree with her. “Oh, that’s not true,” said Pearce with a cynical laugh, though she gave no evidence.
Ashbeck referred to the “distraction you’ve caused,” addressing Pearce, who, despite Ashbeck’s noting the effect on staff and the public criticism her remarks drew, said “I haven’t seen it.” Ashbeck clarified she said “distraction, not destruction” and remarked that Pearce’s behavior was “a poor reflection on the city of Clovis.”
At 7:01 p.m., the audio portion of the Webex was lost for a few minutes. Bessinger appeared to be speaking during this interval, as he was gesturing, and people were looking in his direction. An in-person attendee reported that Bessinger said that when he made a statement of opinion, he was careful to preface it with “I am commenting as an individual.” The December 2020 Trump rally that Bessinger attended as mayor of Clovis, and which drew criticism, did not appear to have been mentioned, nor was his participation as Clovis mayor in a July 2020, news conference in Fresno that was critical of the COVID-19 school shutdown, something that drew public criticism at the time from Ashbeck. At the Aug. 3, 2020, City Council meeting following the news conference, Ashbeck criticized Bessinger for attending it. At that time, Ashbeck raised the issue of establishing guidelines, expectations, or best practices for council members, but she was shut down by then-mayor José Flores, who in an angry outburst, accused Ashbeck of wanting to be “queen of Clovis.” The subject of best practices had not returned until now.
Basgall, addressing Pearce, remarked that regarding the flag disagreement, “You went after all four of us,” despite the fact that “we all agreed” on the flag policy itself. Pearce had insisted that the flag ordinance — limiting the flags that may be flown on city property to the U. S., state and Clovis city flags — should be removed from the oversight of the city manager and shifted to that of the City Council. A vote was taken, and four of five council members agreed that the ordinance should remain as is, and the next day Pearce complained publicly about her colleagues on social media, soliciting supporters to appear in person at the next council meeting to object after the fact of the consensus, thus angering her four fellow council members.
“The city manager works for us,” said Basgall, noting that they could “act” if he did something the council didn’t approve of. He was still upset about a flyer created and distributed by Pearce that provoked people to express anger toward the other four council members with misinformation about how they preferred to display the U.A. flag.
Mouanoutoua then spoke for several minutes, speculating about a number of subjects, while saying that he “thinks a lot before saying anything.” He said that “I look at public service as something that must be taken seriously,” and asks himself how decisions “will affect staff.” He talked about rejecting a proposal to place “in God we trust” on the council chamber wall, asking how that would advance city issues such as improving police-officer response time in an emergency. As he spoke, at times he appeared to be arguing with himself or thinking out loud —“this may be the new way,” and maybe Pearce would “lead us to a new way of getting two opposing sides together;” however, he said, attacking and hitting back was “not healthy.”
Agenda Items 11 & 12 At 7:11 p.m., Ashbeck adjourned the meeting to the closed session, which included labor negotiations on behalf of city police and fire employees as well as existing litigation concerning the loss of the city’s appeal in its affordable housing suit, Desiree Martinez v. City of Clovis, et al., case number F082914. At the May 1 closed session, the council had voted 5-0 for legal counsel to file with the California Supreme Court a request for “depublication” of the record of the city’s loss. “Depublication” means that the judgment can’t be cited as precedent, creating the perception that the decision has been censored. Cross said that there would be no report from the closed session.
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