Dear Councilwoman Zapf:
When you were elected to the San Diego City Council 4 years ago, to represent my Clairemont neighborhood, I was willing to give you a chance.
After all, you claimed to be sensitive to working class issues, as asmall business owner. And you have mentioned having Mexican-American family members, which made me hopeful you would find common ground with the growing Latino community in my native Clairemont.
But this week, your staff’s comments about how she “wanted to shoot” the “… idiot” protesters at a City Council event displayed a shocking lack of awareness about public safety, civil disobedience, efforts to achieve social justice, and the constitutional right of Americans to use peaceful protest to communicate with elected officials.
And what makes this latest situation even worse: it was the SECOND time a member of your staff displayed this tone deaf, cavalier disrespect towards public protest.
Remember this? CA GOP Mocks Occupy As Theme for Holiday Party
According to news reports, your former staffer, Matt Donnellan, coordinated an event in the middle of a work day with people dressed up in elf costumes, to help promote an upcoming event organized by the Lincoln Club of San Diego—a group infamous for their lack of concern for issues important to many poor and working class people in our city, including, most recently, a living wage.
At that time, I don’t know what your response was. Maybe your staffer’s action in 2011 wasn’t as shocking as the 2014 comment about “shooting” people who show up to protest. But both of these people have shown a level of disrespect that many San Diegans find troubling in anyone, let alone in those who work for an elected official.
I realize how challenging a response to this situation can be. Smart, professional staffmembers are essential for the smooth operation of any office. As an Assemblymember, I was fortunate to have people working in my legislative and committee offices in San Diego and Sacramento, who represented me well and responsibly at community events, meetings, etc.
These staff positions require the trust, respect and- most critically-experience and understanding of the community they serve.
So I have a few recommendations for you, as one former elected woman to a current elected woman:
- Educate those who are currently in your employ, so this sort of thing stops happening.
- Meet personally with the people who organized the protest at City Hall, and listen to their concerns.
- And finally: Fire Ms. Owen, and replace her with someone everyone can trust and be comfortable working with.
It may sound heartless, especially during this holiday season. But you need to take responsibility for this statement.
Moreover, this is not your office’s first time in this situation, and your staff has demonstrated a pattern of disrespectful behavior that is troubling, to say the least.
I wish you luck in showing San Diegans you take this matter seriously, and are willing to set a new tone for the New Year.