Thu. May 23rd, 2024

By Donna Westfall – March 30, 2017 – December 15, 1791 was a most memorial day in the history of the United States.  It was the day that we adopted the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  The framers of the Constitution remembered the bad old days when the King of England could have a person imprisoned for saying anything that could be considered a criticism of the crown.  The First Amendment guaranteed that this would not be tolerated in a free society.  The right to say anything you wanted, and to petition for a government redress of grievances would be guaranteed forever.

Now fast forward some 226 years to present day and we find out that the Chairman of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, Chris Howard aided by Supervisor Hemmingsen would like to take away your freedom of speech rights and made the attempt at the last board meeting held March 28th.

Here’s what happened.  During the public comment period, anyone in the audience has the opportunity to speak for 3 minutes on any topic.  Several speakers had spoken, then Linda Sutter, a resident of Del Norte County, began by detailing how she thought Supervisor Cowan had been self serving in her votes on the board and Sutter said she was going to begin a Recall Petition.  At that moment Supervisor Hemmingsen said, “cut the microphone” followed by Chairman Howard who ordered the microphone to be turned off, which was done.  
At that point the chairman turned to the county counsel for clarification.  The county council then stated “you can’t make statements attacking a supervisor.” Whereupon the speaker was told to step away from the microphone and she took her seat in the audience.
I got up and after introducing myself, I looked at Supervisor Cowan and said I was going to support a recall. At that point, I was interrupted by Chair Howard (view the video), turned to County Counsel and said, “It’s my understanding that anyone can talk about anything under the sun during 3 minute public comment.”
She agreed.  I continued and when finished, left the meeting.
After another speaker had spoken, the county counsel again took the microphone and stated, “If there is anyone in the audience who feels they were not heard? We do not want you to feel that way.”
It would seem that the county counsel contradicted her previous ruling, finally realizing that Chairman Howard was dealing with a freedom of speech issue and that the constitution of the United States guaranteed Sutter’s  and Westfall’s right to continue.
At that point Linda Sutter was offered the opportunity to resume her presentation with the microphone turned back on.
People have the right to demand redress of grievances, to have their voices heard in a public forum, even in Del Norte County, and to be respected by the chairman of the board, even if that speech is uncomfortable for a member of that board.  
One only has to look at the nightly news to see that freedom of speech is alive and well at many of the town hall meetings held by congressmen.  Many in the audience attempt to shout down the speaker, much of it with language unfit for young children, but even this is allowed and even encouraged by our system of government.  It’s one of the ways we use to promote change in a democratic society.
When we attempt to stifle a citizens right to speak to their representatives, we are no better than petty dictatorships in third world countries.
Supervisors Howard and Hemmingsen, I hope you learned a valuable lesson.  Because if you haven’t, the next step we’re taking (Sutter and Westfall) is to request a Cease and Desist letter from our District Attorney, Dale Trigg. From now on we will treat you like ants under a magnifying glass.  You persist like this and you’re going to get fried. Not only will the ACLU have you under a microscope, but now we’re working with the Coalition of 1st Amendment Rights. So,  if there is anything to be found in government codes, or criminal codes, we will find it.
Please take this suggestion to heart: re-read the constitution and the Brown Act. I guarantee we will not stop until you start treating the public with more respect AND abide by the law of our land. You’re not above being recalled either.


  1. Isn’t it interesting that “just that guy” is afraid to identify himself. Without identification it makes his assertion suspect.

  2. you were a wack job as a correctional officer and as it is said a leopard never changes its spots.

    1. Wow, Just that guy is what they call a cell warrior. It is true there are a lot of haters out there, and my guess he is one of the ones who tried to unsuccessfully cheat on his wife. Hence no name given..but guess what buddy ..we know who you are by your email address…lol…go figure

  3. The issue of FREE SPEECH, unfettered with interruption or obstruction is core to America. It matter not the subject matter…Every American has the right to free speech. Supervisors Howard and Hemmingsen owe Linda Sutter a FULL PUBLIC APOLOGY.

    1. No, Roger, Chairman Howard and Supervisor Hemmingsen have been in public office long enough to know better. To apologize, does not get to the core of their transgressions. An apology will not suffice. Chair Howard and Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen have been playing fast and loose with all manner of things at Board meetings for some time. They both need to straighten up, be removed from their various appointments, Chair Howard needs to at least step down, and it would be a good idea if both men were to voluntarily resigned. This dysfunction at the Board is happening at a time when the issues facing our County are too important to be left up to representation that cannot even control themselves and conduct Board business without obvious personal animus.

  4. The state of surveillance in very alive and well. It is very concerning to hear our local public servants suppress the public’s voice and right to free speech during a public meeting designed for the public to share their views.
    Also, happening now, in Del Norte County, a person has been taken hostage, and locked up for four years so far, without the benefit of a trial, unable to afford bail, or have the benefit of a law library or a copy of the prosecution’s discovery, or legal research to defend himself against false accusations. How could this be possible in a country that has a constitution that forbids these acts?
    How is our government collecting information on it’s citizens, without their knowledge.
    Please watch what is happening to us this very moment.

  5. When County Counsel Elizabeth Cable stated, “you can’t attack supervisors”, she fatally flawed the First Right Amendment of free speech. The only limits on free speech is hostile, discriminating words that cause immediate violence. Ms. Cable gets paid a nice wage to represent the County, however, it appears that she may need remedial training on the freedom of speech issue.

    I informed Supervisor Cowan that I had been approached to obtain signatures for her recall. I begin to inform the Supervisor Cowan the reasons why, which was abruptly stopped by Hemmingsen, Howard, and County Counsel Cable. Cable knew she had done wrong and made it right when I was allowed to approach and reread my speech, however, Howard continued to interrupt my speaking.

    But that was not the only Brown Act Violation. There were several items on the consent agenda that were left undiscussed, stamped with approval, that had issues with the budget, Transferring money here and there. Those items were not opened up for public Discussion what so ever. This was pointed out by Paula McCarthy who represented the Del Norte Republican’s women, and who had worked for a major city that had been challenged in the court of law for placing items on the consent agenda and not discussing them and allowing public comment. This current practice of our local government entities including Crescent City Council has been occurring for years. It needs to stop immediately or pay the consequence of yet another lawsuit.

    I am currently working with ACLU, AND First Amendment Coalition to stop the corruptive practices of these entities. I want people to keep in mind this:

    The people of the state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they can maintain control over the instruments they have created.

    The liberty to speak freely and openly without fear of government restraint. The right to speak and the right to be heard which falls under freedom of expression. Free Speech is an indispensable tool of self-governance in a democratic society. I ask you, by what moral right does the government of a free Country limit free speech in the name of a vaguely defined, “fine line” that can only mean restriction? ask Elizabeth Cable, County Counsel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *