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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 15th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 2

Lompoc councilmember's poop emoji bumper sticker brings up questions of ethics

By SPENCER COLE

A crude bumper sticker on the back of an elected official's pickup truck in Lompoc sparked a dialogue in recent weeks about how representatives should conduct themselves in public.

"I think it's important to have in most any sort of elected body some sort of standards of conduct," local columnist Ron Fink told the Sun.


WAR AND FECES
Lompoc City Councilmember Jim Mosby’s truck has this bumper sticker attached to the tailgate. Local columnist Ron Fink says he wanted the council to discuss its code of conduct policy because the sticker targeted him.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RON FINK

Fink has submitted political commentary to the Lompoc Record and other local outlets (including the Sun), for more than a decade. He said he submitted an ethics complaint on Feb. 15 to the Lompoc City Council. The reason? A bumper sticker affixed to the tailgate of Councilmember Jim Mosby's truck, which says in bold black text: "Fink Happens: Flush him and let's move on!" To the left of the text is a large "pile of poo" emoji.

"This sticker has been affixed to Mosby's truck since early in the cannabis debate and is consistent with his style of trying to intimidate anyone who disagrees with him," Fink wrote in his complaint. "His actions are unprofessional, ethically challenged, and frankly much like childish bullying."

Fink added Mosby's actions reflected poorly on the entire City Council. "Many have asked me about this sticker, so it's a matter of public discussion," he said.

As a columnist and sitting chair on the Lompoc Planning Commission, Fink recognizes he is a public figure and fair game for criticism. His issue with Mosby's bumper sticker is that council members receive monthly stipends, medical benefits, and thus are "paid." He reiterated to the council, and a week later to the Sun, that council members are elected officials. They're visible public figures.

So when the Lompoc City Council shot down a motion by Mayor Bob Lingl to review and discuss the city's code of conduct policy on March 6, Fink admitted he came away frustrated. And since he isn't technically a city employee, Lompoc's attorney, Joe Pannone, allegedly told a council member to relay to Fink that he had no basis for his ethics complaint.

"Apparently, comparing a citizen to a pile of excrement and suggesting that he be 'flushed' is acceptable behavior for these three council members," Fink said. "Considering the volume of water needed to flush a 200 pound human away, this might be considered a threat."

The Sun asked Fink if he really felt threatened by the bumper sticker. His response, a flat no. "I don't feel threatened," he added, "if I did, I'd be running around in a hermetically sealed shell."

Fink referenced the "finger-gun" incident in August 2017, when Mayor Lingl allegedly pointed his finger at Mosby and said he'd like to shoot him.

"Mosby never even saw the motion, if it happened, he just heard about it," Fink said.

The incident made the rounds at local news outlets, and at one point Mosby's wife alluded to it on social media as a threat to her husband.

"I just think Mosby should be held to the same standard in that respect," Fink said.

Mosby did not comment for this story by the Sun's press time. Of the other two members on the council who declined to discuss the city's code of conduct policy, only Dirk Starbuck responded. Mayor Lingl also did not comment by press time.

Starbuck told the Sun he talked to Mosby about the bumper sticker.

"[Mosby's] reply to me was basically, 'This guy writes a bunch of trash about me. He's chairman of the Planning Commission, where's his code of conduct?'"

On why he joined Mosby and Victor Vega in not discussing a code of conduct policy, Starbuck said, "I just saw it as something we didn't need to do."

Councilmember Jenelle Osborne, who joined Lingl in a vote to discuss the city's code of conduct, said she did so in hopes of creating a discussion on the topic.

"I love discourse," she said. "I want opposing opinion brought forward—you might be able to change my mind."

Osborne told the Sun she supported the motion on those grounds and cited past behavioral issues on the council, including the alleged finger gun threat in August and the controversial removal of city staff from the dais at council meetings, a move led by Mosby, Vega, and then supported by Starbuck.

Osborne declined to comment specifically about the bumper sticker, but said she'd rather speak "to the general idea of the code of conduct," because Lompoc has not adopted specific guidelines for council members to follow.

The California League of Cities has codes of ethics that local governments can adopt for what it says help elected bodies find "common ground" while "cultivating respectful relationships early on," which "can make for a more civil and effective governing body."

Adopting such a code may be useful for Lompoc, Osborne said. "I think there's a certain way to behave in this role," she added, noting that council members were still entitled to free speech.

Fink told the Sun he was open to the city adopting a code of conduct policy, even one that prohibited him from submitting political columns, but that if they did, "he would probably resign" from his positions and just focus on his writing.

Osborne said it was unfortunate that the council needed to have the discussion.

"Implying staff is incapable of doing their jobs, or impugning certain individuals that you disagree with are all things that, the way I was raised, you don't do, and you really don't do it as a public official," she said. "So my support of a code of conduct was if you don't know how to behave, we should have some basic rules that we all agree to so that we are all playing on the same field, and unfortunately we didn't agree to do that.

"I was reacting to a yearlong behavior from all of us, including myself even, having to call out my counterparts about their behavior," Osborne added. "So rather than having to do that all the time, I'd rather see us work on a code of conduct we all agreed [to], and rules that say: This is the expected way to be." 

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at scole@santamariasun.com.




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