Plenty of muck to rake in Willows
I read in the Nov. 7 Sacramento Valley Mirror an article and letter to the editor from Brian Bonner that Bill Spears writes in his blog calling for a boycott of the Valley Mirror.
Mr. Spears is advocating canceling subscriptions, removing ads and encouraging citizens not to support businesses that elect to advertise in the Valley Mirror.
How dare Mr. Spears, a recently elected council member, advocate not supporting any Willows business? Is this how he responds to something he does not like or to someone who disagrees with him? It seems to me that Mr. Spears is deciding that some businesses are better than others.
What business will he target next? Where does it stop and where is the outrage from the business community?
Although I was not re-elected, I have had the opportunity to serve with a lot of great council members and this is not something any council member who cares about their community would ever think of doing. I would think the Chamber of Commerce and the business community would be demanding that Mr. Spears not take the oath of office or serve as a council member for the city of Willows.
We need people who will continue to support our businesses.
City officials say the ongoing saga of Willows police Chief and Councilman-elect Bill Spears has the makings of a soap opera storyline that may never go away.
A Willows newspaper publisher lodged a formal complaint with the City Council on Tuesday that Spears crossed the line when he called for the economic destruction the Sacramento Valley Mirror.
Tim Crews has asked for an investigation into Spears’ Nov. 4 personal blog calling for the public to cancel their subscriptions and boycott all businesses who advertise in the twice-weekly paper.
Crews also said Spears made numerous accusations of criminal behavior against him.
“Chief Spears is Chief of Police 24/7,” Crews told the council, referring to the law enforcement code of ethics.
The code of ethics states a police officer’s character and conduct, while off duty, must always be exemplary and above reproach, and that he must maintain a position of respect in the community in which he serves.
“It was vindictive and unscrupulous,” Crews said later.
In a letter to the editor, outgoing Mayor Vince Holvik has all but suggested the Willows business community strike back.
“Although I was not re-elected, I have had the opportunity to serve with a lot of great council members and this is not something any council member who cares about their community would ever think of doing,” Holvik wrote in the letter, which is published in full on Page A5 and with this story at www.wllows-journal.com.
“I would think the Chamber of Commerce and the business community would be demanding that Mr. Spears not take the oath of office or serve as a council member for the city of Willows.”
Spears’ blog, “In the Willow Tree” grew from his official “Logs and Stuff,” which he released as Chief of Police until late August, along with the daily police calls.
In his official blog, Spears frequently added editorial comment about police activities and community events, which garnered occasional complaints that it also crossed the line of ethical conduct, city officials said.
In February 2011, Spears publicly apologized for an off-handed comment he made in the blog regarding the arrest of a man accused of shoplifting a bottle of booze.
It was when Spears took out papers to run for City Council that City Manager Steve Holsinger felt compelled to order Spears to discontinue commentary out of concern for the city’s liability.
“When the campaign started, the blogging had to stop,” Holsinger said Wednesday. “That was all there was to it.”
The next day, Spears started “In the Willows Tree,” and admittedly began blogging a non-stop and often vicious attack on Holsinger and then fellow candidates Holvik and Gary Hansen.
Spears implied in his blog Holsinger was a drunk, and noted his movements in town.
He also suggested there were complaints that Holsinger’s weekly garbage pickup disturbed the neighborhood because of the noise of discarded alcohol bottles.
Spears repeatedly called Holvik a liar and accused City Clerk Natalie Butler, whose husband was also a candidate for City Council, of intentionally withholding the council agenda until the last minute to impede the public’s right to know what is happening at City Hall.
“Some people chose to run a very negative campaign,” Hansen said at his last council meeting on Tuesday. “It is something I never would have done.”
Hansen lost his seat by only seven votes.
On Thursday, Holvik said he only learned about Spears’ blog in late October and was disappointed that Spears never came forward publicly to make such accusations, nor did he give any of the accused an opportunity to defend or dispute his claims.
“Bill has the ability to be a great council member,” Holvik said. “But he has to get past the personal side of things and do the job he was elected to do.”
Holvik expressed extreme disappointment that Spears – as a council member-elect – encouraged his readers to boycott the a Willows business.
Brian Bonner, former Willows Economic Committee chairman, also reacted to Spears’ blog and called the boycott an act of evilness.
“Let us all be clear,” Bonner responded in a letter. “For anyone to advocate doing major damage to any Willows business is simply unacceptable.”
On Thursday, Spears said his statement about boycotting the Valley Mirror was rash, and was something he now regretted.
“I realize that as a council member-elect, I need to take a broader perspective,” said Spears.
“I reacted emotionally when I should have used more constraint.”
Spears said he spoke as an individual who has been repeatedly victimized by Crews in his newspaper.
Crews is famous for running stories on unverified information, Spears said, taking comments out of context, demonizing those with a differing opinion and editorializing news stories to promote his personal agenda.
“I simply reacted as any individual is allowed to react,” he said. “If I had lunch somewhere and got a poor meal and bad service, then I would have a right to not support that business. My statements were out of frustration.”
Spears’ supporters were equally surprised at Crews’ actions, given his reputation for similar attacks under the guise of freedom of the press, and that he followed through with a formal complaint to the city with a demand for an investigation.
“It must be OK to use a newspaper as a curmudgeon one week and then complain the next week about the same thing,” said Keith Parish. “I’m sorry, my BS detector went off.”
On Wednesday, Crews said that he was not filing a legal action against the city over Spears’ remarks, but that he has simply asked the city to investigate its liability for Spears’ “written assault,” not only against him but the city manager, city clerk, other staff and the City Council.
Crews believes that Spears’ words carry the mantle of authority, and that his “secret” e-mail list does not free him from his ethical standards of his office.
“Blogs are not free of the constraints of libel, business libel and slander,” said Crews, who noted Spears’ words didn’t hurt his subscription base, but did scare off advertisers.
Holvik said he does not expect the city to be held responsible for Spears’ personal blog, but does fear Spears could continue to use his blog to promote his own agenda if and when he takes office.
“When does it end?” Holvik said. “We have seen that (Spears) has the power to rally his followers to support his personal agenda. Who and what is next?”
Spears, who has declined to take office until January, has asked his supporters through his blog to attend the Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 council meetings to petition the new City Council to renew his employment as of Dec. 31.
The City Council, which will be seated Nov. 27, will include Vice Mayor Jeff Cobb, Councilwoman Terry Taylor Vodden and newly elected members Larry Domenighini and Larry Mello.
Spears has said numerous times during his campaign that he would rather remain as chief of police than serve on the council, but that he was willing to serve the city in any manner possible.
Legally, he cannot do both.
After apologizing for his remarks, Spears on Thursday said he just wants to move forward, and that the City Council – with or without him – must do what is best for the citizens of Willows.
“My intent is not to tear anything down,” he said. “My intent is to build this city up.”
Once he takes office, however, Spears said he would have to recuse himself from any discussion or action regarding his position as police chief, whether that includes his renewal or any legal claims he makes against the city.
Spears’ claim that his non-renewal was illegal and that he was subjected to a hostile work environment are in the early stages of a legal process.