At their Monday, July 12 meeting, the Petaluma City Council will decide whether to kick a controversial resident off of a committee tasked with advising the city on race relations and police policies.
If passed, the resolution would remove Stefan Perez from his appointed seat on the Ad Hoc Community Advisory Committee (AHCAC). Perez, who is one of 28 AHCAC members, has been criticized since late May when a prominent Twitter user began sharing Perez’s past social media posts featuring racist and misogynistic humor.
A resolution prepared by City Attorney Eric Danly explains that, as the creator of the committee, the city council has the inherent power to remove or replace members of it with or without cause. The resolution also cites the council’s power to “declare the office of an [AHCAC] member vacant and appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy.” In effect, the proposal would amend the council resolution used to form the AHCAC in order to remove Perez from his appointment and abolish his seat.
Although the resolution does not mention Perez’s social media posts or any other specific reason for removing him from the AHCAC, the move appears to be a change of course for the city. Since the criticisms of Perez began nearly two months ago, city officials have remained largely silent despite requests for action.
In a June 9 statement, the City Council urged members of the AHCAC and the public to “refrain from participating in disparaging behaviors on social media” and raised First Amendment concerns about “regulating Committee members’ speech,” an apparent response to residents calling for Perez’s removal from the AHCAC.
Asked for comment on the July 12 agenda item, Roy Miller, Perez’s attorney, stated in an email Friday that “Mr. Perez is considering attending the council meeting and/or providing a statement to the council about the issue.”
Mayor Teresa Barrett, city manager Peggy Flynn and city attorney Danly did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Arising out of the racial justice protests in 2020, the city council formed the AHCAC in early 2021 to discuss what makes community members—particularly those from marginalized groups—feel unsafe in Petaluma and provide recommendations to the city council on city and police policies aimed at improving race relations.
After a virtual town hall listening forum in June 2020 attended by more than 300 community members, the city of Petaluma hired Tracey Webb as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and facilitator, first tasked with interviewing BIPOC community members and gathering their recommendations for next steps. The AHCAC was created based on Webb’s listening sessions and analysis.
Bringing together more than 20 Petaluma representatives of local organizations serving communities of color and other marginalized groups, the AHCAC would meet for six monthly meetings facilitated by Webb. In addition to the 22 committee members who were recommended by community organizations, several more individuals who were unaffiliated with those groups were considered for appointment by the City Council, based on their expressed interest in participation.
In a Feb. 25 letter to the council, Perez requested a seat on the committee, stating that “I believe having another indigenous citizen would help bolster the council’s goal to have a committee made up of BIPOC citizens, particularly from Petaluma.”
At the time, several Petaluma residents spoke in support of Perez while others raised concerns about Perez’s social media posts and online interactions over the past year, including comments he made raising alarm about racial justice protests where he alleged that BLM activists and “antifa” members were dangerous.
Ultimately, Councilmember Dr. Dennis Pocekay appointed Perez to the AHCAC at a March 15 meeting. In all, 28 people were appointed in March. So far, the committee has met three times.
On May 20, Perez became the center of an Internet-fueled scandal when many of Perez’s social media posts featuring Nazi imagery, racist and misogynistic humor, were shared by Chad Loder, an activist and Twitter user with a sizeable following.
Loder also alleged that Perez, who owns a video production company, ran several Golden State Nationalist social media accounts.
[Read ‘Bad Blood,’ the Bohemian’s June 9 article, for more information about Loder’s allegations.]
In early June, Roy Miller, an attorney representing Perez, denied that Perez runs the Golden State Nationalist accounts. When asked about a particular post on Perez’s personal Twitter account, Miller stated that Perez’s “entire Twitter feed is made up of jokes and dark humor for the most part so the reader shouldn’t necessarily take them seriously.”
As Perez’s social media posts began to circulate in Petaluma, many residents called for Perez’s removal from the AHCAC, but the City Council remained largely quiet. At a Monday, June 7 meeting, Pocekay apologized “for being the person who put Stefan’s name out there.” The other council members did not address the issue at the meeting.
Two days later, the city released a letter signed by three members of the city council—Mayor Teresa Barrett as well as councilmembers Mike Healy and D’Lynda Fischer—addressing the allegations circulating online on behalf of the entire council. Although the letter does not name Perez, it was widely understood to be in reference to him.
“We strongly urge that all AHCAC members and our entire community refrain from participating in disparaging behaviors on social media and elsewhere, and stay engaged with what we set out to do from the onset–undertake the challenging and essential work of discussing race relations in Petaluma,” the letter states in part.
The letter goes on to state that, because the AHCAC process is considered a government action, “the First Amendment prohibits the City from regulating Committee members’ speech, or participation in the AHCAC based on protected speech.” The letter adds that the council hopes it will not be necessary “to initiate actions which could include removal of Committee members or represented organizations from this important process.”
Although Perez did not attend the AHCAC’s June 15 meeting, the committee spent considerable time discussing his behavior and what some viewed as the City Council’s lack of support for committee members who felt threatened or disappointed by Perez.
At the meeting, AHCAC member Eric Leland attempted to pass a motion to “censure” Perez. Leland’s motion failed to gain enough support in a straw vote after City Attorney Eric Danly raised legal concerns about the phrasing of the motion and other AHCAC members said they would rather move on with the committee’s intended work instead of lingering on Perez.
NOTE: The final paragraph of this article previously stated that an AHCAC member proposed a motion to “censor” Perez. The motion was meant to “censure” Perez.
This article is part of the Bohemian’s ongoing series about the fallout from the April pig’s head vandals and the surrounding intrigue. Read the first part of the series here.
Thoughts, news tips or comments? You can reach Will Carruthers at [email protected]