On Friday, during a special meeting of the Antioch City Council, the council unanimously voted to remove Ken Turnage II from the city planning commission after a Facebook Post.
In his Facebook Post, Turnage described he believed “Malthusian Theory” and said he was talking “ecological balance and balance of nature”, something that he says has been going on for thousands of years while trying to explain why Sweden was having success against COVID-19.
Antioch Mayor Sean Wright said Tuesday that the comments Turnage made should not have been said, but he would fight for the right to say things. A few days later, Wright called for Turnage to resign. Turnage refused which prompted Wright to call for a special meeting for a vote of the council to remove Turnage from the planning commission.
The city reported Friday night that they received more than 90 emails, including multiple phone calls. Of the 90 plus comments, 64 advocated for the removal of Turnage.
In a prepared statement to the council, Turnage read the following:
To the Mayor and Council,
After many years of service to the City in both the private and public sectors, it is disheartening that you are considering removing me from the Planning Commission due to a personal opinion that I posted on my personal Facebook page. My personal opinion had nothing to do with the City or my position on the Planning Commission. So to try to somehow link them or create a nexus to further your political agendas is shameful.
My personal opinion was offered in an attempt to spark a debate, like I have done many times before. It is based on the theory of Ecological Balance which is science. Yes I do understand that it is a difficult topic and thus I prefaced it by stating that if people are unable to handle an alternative opinion to not read any further.
The idea of letting Nature run its course was practiced by Sweden and at first The World Health Organization was strictly against it! However, as of yesterday, The World Health Organization says we should learn from Sweden! Ironic, isn’t it?
This Virus is targeting certain sectors of the World. I did not decide these sectors or create this Virus. I merely spoke on what could potentially happen to those sectors plus others including myself. Yes, my analogies in hindsight could have been different to make the same point, for that I am sorry but hindsight is 20/20.
Being removed from the Planning Commission because my opinion is not liked or agreed with is not a fair reason to be removed. In fact, in a Country where we value free speech it’s unconscionable! It sends the message that only like-minded people can serve this City. That, in my opinion, is a very dangerous road for this Counsel to go down and everyone in this City should be very concerned. Having it viewed as offensive speech then targeting me with repercussion for this is a direct violation of my First Amendment Rights and should NOT happen under our Constitution!
At this time I would like to make a formal records request of all documents that pertain to this matter to include but not limited to e-mails, text messages, recorded phone conversations etc. between and amongst Council Members and City Staff related to my personal post and development of this agenda, and the subsequent recommendation to remove me from this position. The fact that during a Council Meeting a non-agendized item was discussed openly is a violation of the Brown Act. So yes, you may not like me expressing an opinion you do not like, but you have violated the law!
If you are going to punish someone for having an opinion other than yours then our Constitutional Republic is going to Die! I would like to say that at some point it would be nice if certain council members stop race baiting to further their political agendas. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Please hold yourself to at least the modicum of the standard you expect of the volunteers such as myself who are willing to try and help this City. Otherwise, I fear there is little hope for its future.
In closing its hard to believe that all of you have come to my house when I have opened my home at my own expense to do fundraisers for elderly, our youth and other at-risk demographics. Now publicly you are taking these actions when you personally know me better. It’s nice to see that opportunity lives here as long as you share the Councils opinion!
Ken Turnage II
Upon closing of public comments, Mayor Wright asked the city attorney if this was a “free speech issue” in which it was explained it was not an issue of free speech.
“I believe you’re hearing from the comments is that what the focus of this issue is not a free speech. The focus of this issue is what is the reaction and the impact that this speech has had on the residents of Antioch,” stated City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith. “Thinking about this issue right now and the thing that makes it so critical for the government is that this has incited an impact.”
He told the council it was up to them to determine the impact and what the impact it is having on Antioch residents and their ability to effectively govern. He then explained the difference between an elected official and an appointed commissioner.
“If an elected public official makes these types of statements, there’s a direct accountability for the people who elect that official. So elected officials receive their power on the public. What you have here, because you have an appointed official and you have someone who is appointed by an elected official, so the public elected the official, the official appointed and approved the appointment, put them in this place. And the reason that’s important is because in this circumstance, the individual is beyond the reach and the grasp of public and hold accountable. And so where you’re left is your left as the city council, which is able to determine whether or not this person will be held accountable and how that accountability will take shape. But ultimately the position that commissioner is in, it’s still a position where they got their power for the public, but the conduit was all of you as elected officials who went out there on the public vote and then enabled this person to occupy that position. And you have to decide based on what you hear from the public, whether or not there’s a call to accountability and that calls you accountability would be only yours to be open to exercise, but the public cannot not reach. This individual is safely sheltered and behind the elected officials in Antioch and only the elected officials can decide how it is that this matter should be handled.”
Counclmember Lamar Thorpe called this an unfortunate situation and sad for the entire community while saying it was not an easy decision. He also supported the Mayors decision.
“After hearing the comments and particularly from chairman Turnage, I wrote down the phrase loss of confidence. Loss of confidence in his ability to lead,” stated Thorpe. “I expected to hear some kind of a remorse to just comments.”
Thorpe did say he (Turnage) has his opinions and he has his own opinions but they still had to account to the public.
“The public was incensed by these comments,” stated Thorpe. “I am not even going to get into some of the nonsense arguments that were being spewed because they have no place here when we’re talking about life and death, whether or not we as a community are committed to that. And so I’m somewhat insulted by some of the commentary that I heard. I am saddened by some of the commentary as it related to Mr. Turnage’s character. I don’t believe those things to be true.”
Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts called it “extremely unfortunate” that they were there to discuss the removal of Turnage while acknowledging his dedication and work towards the community—youth, schools and senior community.
“The obligation and honor of this council is to serve and represent the entire community. We are responsible for the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and we are accountable to the same public for those responsibilities. This requires a standard of values that encompass a distinct level of integrity, compassion, and fairness and respect for others,” stated Motts who noted commissioners serve at the pleasure of the city council.
She highlighted how the post from Turnage went viral.
“I personally found was post absurd and avoid any science or healthcare or economics. This is a terrible virus can kill the elderly and immune compromised that can also kill children, teens and pregnant women. It does not care where you live, who you love or the color of your skin. We are all vulnerable.”
“The impact of commissioner Turnage statements on his Facebook post have caused unnecessarily damage during a time of extreme difficulty for this community, for the state and our nation as we deal with extreme consequences, loss of life severe illness, economic fallout. Counsel and I have received many emails and phone calls from all over the States, overwhelmingly asking for his removal. I think it should be noticeably clear to all of us that the words she put out to the public, even on social media can have grave consequences,” stated Motts. “Since chair Turnage is recognized as a leader on public official in Antioch, I find it difficult to believe that he can continue to have the trust of the public in his duties as chair of the planning commission. I unfortunately believe this comments have compromised his ability to do his job and I’ve heard nothing tonight that would lead me in a different direction and therefore I would support you there in your recommendation for his removal.”
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock asked how the city mentors individuals and how it is done.
Wright asked what Ogorchock meant.
“I don’t know, you bring them forth, you interview them. Do we have a program in place to mentor individuals who hold a commission?” asked Ogorchock.
Staff replied that each of the department heads run those commissions and are trained by the individual departments (the community development department).
Forrest Ebbs, Community Development Director, explained in this commission, that in the past they sent commissioners to the planning commissioners academy sponsored by the League of California Cities (a 3-day conference). He called it beneficial but only a few members attended.
Ogorchock then asked if the city shares with planning commissioners that what they put out on their social media page will affect the entire city and how its represented and on us as a council because they appointed them.
“We as staff have not had that conversation with individual planning commissioners,” stated Ebbs calling social media a big deal and there is an opportunity to learn and sort of embrace what the current expectations are.
Ogorchock expressed her concerns calling this disruptive but highlighted Turnages work in the community the Little League projects, MC of the 4th of July, being a Rotarian, and a variety of other things but said the Facebook post he wrote did provide a warning for those who may have a difference of opinion but people still read it.
“They were very insensitive,” stated Ogorchock saying she received many complaints from the elderly.
Councilwoman Monica Wilson said she supported the mayor bringing this forward and that her comments have not changed since Tuesdays meeting.
Mayor Wright read a pre-drafted statement.
“As individuals in a democracy, freedom of speech of individuals is held in high value. We are here tonight because city officials are held to a higher standard. When our words in public service undermine the city’s overall position and caused the citizens to lose confidence in us, especially during a pandemic when people are losing their lives and families are victim to illness, it is something that must be examined. As the mayor of the city of Antioch. I want to say to every single citizen that you matter. We need to let you know as council that you matter, that our citizens matter to us, that your life, your job and your business are important to us. We will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to support your business. We cannot ignore that the world is facing center that we have never seen before. The only way out of this crisis, this is to support one another with our words and our actions.”
The council then vote 5-0 to remove Turnage.
Tuesday Night City Council Recap (April 28, 2020)
Tuesday night, Antioch Councilwoman Monica Wilson called for his resignation or for the City Council to remove him from the planning commission.
“I do want to take a moment to raise an issue that I believe undermines the great work that our city is doing to protect our citizens,” Wilson said in regards to the posting on Facebook. “Our Antioch Planning Commission Chair made some inappropriate comments on social media. To paraphrase, he basically made the argument that it was totally OK to allow in our community, from the elderly to the homeless, to die a COVID-19 for the benefit of reopening our economy contrary to our shared values. Furthermore, I just want to point out, my ancestors already died for the sake of our economy through a marked period in our time called slavery. Let me be clear, he is entitled to his opinion, as I am entitled to mine. However, as a member of our planning commission his words are merely not consistent of what we are doing and how we care for our citizens,”
She continued by saying the city will continue to work with the county on a response to COVID-19 to do what is best.
“His words do not in any way reflect the values of the city council or city administration. Personally, I find his words completely disgusting, inappropriate and extremely reckless. We do not have any place in public discourse for that. Lastly, I am also appalled to date none of us on council have responded to this reckless comment. It is inexcusable. Comments like this and letting our community know that we are there for them and we support them and value everyone’s life in dignity and respect no matter who they are in Antioch. As an understatement, I am beyond disgusted by those remarks… I too am asking either he resigns or we as council need to deal with taking him off of that commission.”
Councilman Lamar Thorpe said he shared Wilson’s concern.
“Councilwoman Wilson, I share your concern and disgust. I thought those comments were inexcusable and they have no place in city government, today. To your point, it’s contrary to the shared values we have as a community and I’m beyond disgusted. So, thank you for your remarks.”
Thorpe’s comments come four years after he was removed from the Economic Development commission and as Monica Wilson Council backup after his involvement with the Card Room Initiative, sponsored by the California Grand Casino in Pacheco (CA) and is in the electoral process in the City of Antioch.
“I am thoroughly disappointed because I have a disagreement with you mayor and council about a particular issue and that you would use that to retaliate against me to remove me from the Antioch Economic Development Commission where I have been advocating for the prosperity of our city,” explained Thorpe. “Not only have you burdened the city of Antioch with the fiscal responsibility of an election, you have gone out of your way to remove an asset because I do not hold the same opinion as you.”
Thorpe was ultimately removed by Mayor Wade Harper and the council.
Following Thorpes comments on Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts chimed in.
“Monica, that was very passionate what you had to say. I know my expectation is that council and staff and commissions all acknowledge their service to the community, and that they act with professionalism and that they take great care for all of the community members… honestly, its absurd that we would want to take one person’s life is more valuable than another.”
Mayor Sean Wright also condemned Turnage’s comments.
“I have stopped watching and looking at Facebook just because there is so much division. The comments were not brought to my attention until yesterday, through email,” Wright stated. “I think the comments were abhorrent, should not have been said and stated. But I will fight for the right to say things. We do and need to hold ourselves to a higher standard as council members and as commissioners and those who represent the city. So, there is discussion to be had as far as that goes.”
Statement in full made by Turnage on April 23, 2020:
This opinion will not be popular and could easily anger some of you so if you are the type of person that only values your own opinion you may not want to read this. Before I start I just want to say I have been obeying the shelter in place orders. The shelter in place needs to end, we as a species need to move forward with our place on Earth and yes it appears our place is changing. The debate about this virus being man made or just happened due to eating a bat is past us (I believe it was eating the bat). This virus is like a human version of a forest fire, a forest fire will burn through and burn off all the dead trees, old tress, fallen brush and scrub shrub sucklings that drain the resources of the forest and causing it to be unhealthy. So what happens in a standard forest fire is all these portions of the forest are burned off turned into ash that fertilizes the ground. The strong trees survive and the forest replenishes itself and flourishes once again. Now when we stop the standard forest fires or natural burn off in forestry we set ourselves up for total devastation such as the recent fires in California they were in destruction in totality all because we were trying to “protect” we caused more harm.
If we look at our population as the forest you will see many similarities. We have our old, we have our weak and we have our drains on our resources. This virus is targeting those sectors of our population. If we were to live our lives, let nature run its course, yes we will all feel hardship, we will all feel loss. I am sure everyone of us would lose a person who we hold dear. But as species, for our Nation and as a Planet we would we would strengthen when this is all settled. We would have significant loss of life, we would lose many elderly, that would reduce burdens in our defunct Social Security System, health care cost (once the wave subsided), make jobs available for others and it would also free up housing in which we are in dire need of. We would lose a large portion of the people with immune and other health complications. I know it would be loved ones as well. But that would once again reduce our impact on medical, jobs and housing. Then we have our other sectors such as our homeless and other people who just defile themselves by either choice or mental issues. This would run rampant through them and yes i am sorry but this would fix what is a significant burden on our Society and resources that can be used. Of course we would lose many of the “Healthy” maybe even myself but that is the way of the World! With all this said now look at all the Worldly resources that would be able to replenish. We are hearing of many levels of Earth repair already happening just due to a lower impact of our Species so think what would happen with a significant population reduction.
The World has been introduced to a new phrase Herd Immunity which is a good one. In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers it ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature. With this the Herd is strengthened, and the Herd once again becomes symbiant with the planet!
If you unfriend me because of my opinion that is your choice and I wish you the best and stay safe!