Discourse, diversity and democracy

December 29, 2015
Debbie Peterson

Debbie Peterson


As the target of criticism over my role on the steering committee of the SLO County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (a position also held by the fearless publisher of CalCoast News, Karen Velie), I would like to set the record straight.

Recently, the SLO League of Women Voters presented a two year study on civil discourse to our SLO County Board of Supervisors, responding to a very real problem in our county and the reason that I joined the steering committee of the ACLU. During ten years of public service as an appointee and elected representative, I have undertaken to make government meetings more accessible, more easily understood, more transparent, and less intimidating to members of the public.

My desire is for more public involvement in local government. I have been disappointed by the number of times elected officials override the advice of the citizen advisory committees they appoint. I have observed that elected representatives, government staff and even government attorneys come to the job with a variety of skills, abilities and experience, and often with very little understanding of their roles and responsibilities as board members, or the rights and responsibilities of the citizens they represent.

We embrace living in a democracy, but often the practice and politics of governance by our “representatives” is not in line with the democratic principles we espouse. Too often elected officials and staff treat legislation that protects diversity of opinion, and the public’s right to participate as a constraint and hindrance, rather than the freedom that empowers us to work together for the common good. Attorneys for government agencies often aggressively pursue litigation as if they are representing a business enterprise, rather than fulfilling their roles as guardians of transparency and freedom of speech—the laws established for the purpose of protecting we the people.

I have witnessed, and have been the victim of board members, attorneys and staff of public agencies who maneuver and manipulate to silence those who hold differing viewpoints, and stack boards with cronies, rather than listening to public input and considering how to best serve the community.

Too often, rather than seeking first to understand, officials ridicule and denigrate members of the public from the dais, or seek to silence fellow board members with other views. I have seen elected representatives publicly threaten to harm the livelihood and reputation of employees, colleagues, citizens and organizations who ask questions. These behaviors tear down democracy, stifle debate and foster corruption.

The free constitutionally guaranteed exchange of ideas is impaired. Many people feel there is no point in voting or speaking out because they feel they can’t make a difference, or they are afraid to risk their livelihoods and reputations by speaking up.

When we do not hold our public servants to a higher standard we send the message that it is OK to intimidate with threats. We allow members of the bully pulpit to pile on to disparage those who don’t cooperate with their agenda. We stand by as they become more and more skilled at pursuing their own best interest instead of ours.

By going along or keeping quiet we reward and perpetuate malfeasance.

My hope was and is that the ACLU can help, because it has legal experts and members who will take action to uphold the ideals that inspire our constitutional rights.

That does not mean that I agree with every action the ACLU has taken over the years. There are many actions that I profoundly disagree with. However, conservatives, liberals, and centrists can use the resources of our local ACLU chapter to sponsor training for elected officials to clarify their roles and responsibilities as board members and to suggest problem solving techniques and communication skills to improve interaction between board members, the public, and staff. We can educate the public in the right they have to participate in the governance of their communities.

We can insist that our elected officials comply with the Brown Act, First Amendments and the California Constitution. We can take action when government agencies and board members violate transparency and free speech rights.

In his April 17, 1961 speech to the press, President John F. Kennedy warned against government that filters information, where mistakes are buried, not headlined; dissenters are silenced, not praised; no expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. Find the full speech here.

“… no official of my administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should … stifle dissent, seek to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know. No president should fear public scrutiny of his program; for from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary….I not only could not stifle controversy … I welcome it. Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive… government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security…”

Let us resolve to ensure open and accessible government in our county, cities, and special districts. If the ACLU can help achieve this objective, let us applaud them. If it cannot, let us join other organizations which can.

Debbie Peterson was the mayor of Grover Beach from 2012 through 2014, a council member from 2008 through 2012 and a planning commissioner from 2004 through 2008. She is currently a candidate for the District 3 Supervisor seat currently held by Adam Hill.

JB Bronson

When Michael Blank, the former Director of the California Rural Legal Assistance in SLO was allowed to resign for “discrepancies in his billing” instead of being charged criminally, we see how deep the local culture of corruption is.

CRLA had a lot in common with the Mission of the ACLU, but deception and greed and corruption demonstrated by Mr. Blank and him being allowed to simply walk…disgusting.

Good Luck Debbie.

Kaiser Bill

The ACLU does some good. Primarily on free speech, where the ACLU has always stood up to allow unpopular opinions to be heard.

But the ACLU has also been on the wrong side of history and negatively influenced American society. The ACLU has typically supported the rights of illegal aliens to attend public schools, for example. This is a huge drain on the American taxpayer and is contrary to the original goal of the ACLU, upholding the Constitution.


The ACLU also supported the Nazi-American march/protest in Skokie.

I’m with Jake and Elwood Blues on that one.

Mr. Holly

Time out everyone, remember this is politics. Ms. Peterson made some very good points. Although most of the public is unaware of all of the back room deals that are made on a daily basis. The incompetency within government allows for these unqualified elected officials and overpaid managers to make decisions that will better themselves before that of the public, and usually at a great financial expense to the taxpayers. There is no accountability for any of these people and life goes on as we are further burden with higher taxes and fees to cover the inadequacies of these people.


Hi Debbie, thank you for allowing me to use your forum to expose the Tenborg videos. It is related in the sense that your opponent, Adam Hill, is involved in attempting to hush this case. All four Tenborg HAZ MAT videos are staying up on YouTube and growing. Here is the latest 2 minute version.


ECO Solutions Caught Dumping PG&E Hazardous Soil- Tenborg Haz Mat


‘Remember Aaron Wynn’

what the

So far six people do not want to remember Aaron Wynn. Let me guess. Charles Tenborg, Adam Hill, Tom Jones, Bill Worrell, Steve Adamski, and James Wagstaffe?

don the beachcomber

The ACLU attacks have been orchestrated by some of Dan’s supporters as well as possibly by Adam’s in a typical Hill-style “divide and conquer” fashion. This organization is not one of my favorites either, but let’s at least recognize Debbie’s and even Karen’s reasons for getting involved in it.

Thomas A

Work together to Fire Adam Hill in 2016! http://www.FireAdamHill.com


I agree wholeheartedly.

I also agree about Karen Velie being a fearless publisher. Thank you Karen. I admire you so much. You are brave. Your anonymous friend.


And so the campaign to oust Adam “Bully” Hill begins! Keep in mind your association with the leftist agenda-driven ACLU undermines your message with many of us.

Mike Byrd

I’m not aware that the new local chapter of the ACLU has done anything to date – leftist, rightest, green or purple – so I think such strong judgement may be premature.

Nationally, those they’ve represented in terms of policy have ranged from undocumented immigrants to neonazies. Though I’ve been appalled by some of the interests they’ve been involved with over the years, I’ve also noted them to be fearless when it comes to sticking up for everyone’s right to free speech.

If our local chapter promotes free speech and unfettered access to our governmental bodies, I’d consider that a pretty good agenda.


“Free speech means the right to shout ‘THEATRE’ in a crowded fire”, Abbie Hoffman.

” It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own “, Herbert Hoover.

” You know, everybody believes in free speech until you start questioning them about it “, Larry Flynt.

” Free speech has been used by the Supreme Court to give immense power to the wealthiest members of our society “, Noam Chomsky.


Along with our many, now-diminishing Freedoms comes the requirement for Responsible Behavior. When that declines, freedom will also decline.

don the beachcomber

Debbie is showing great courage in explaining her position clearly on this issue as she faces a Dan Carpenter-Tea Party inspired attack which is one-sided and ignores the fact that the publisher of the very news outlet they so love serves on the same committee!


What in the heck does this gobbly de gook all mean Don the beachcomber. And why do you feel the need to call out what party Dan Carpenter aligns with? the post they are both vying for is none partisan.

And since you were hired by Debbie to be her campaign manager I find it interesting that you then slam Dan Carpenter. Does not help her look like the person she is trying to persuade us to believe she is.

In paragraph 12 when she states that we can insist on transparency, REALLY. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink it.

what the

I am not sure if attacking Dan is going to help Debbie out very much don. You may want to rethink your approach. Debbie and Dan need to be friends in case one needs to support the other to Can Adam Hill. Let’s work together, watch the numbers, and be tactical.


Debbie P is either a conservative or not.

ACLU = NOT Conservative

No explaining changes that!

You can’t play both ends against the middle without clashing with everyone.

Kaiser Bill

The 3rd District is not going to elect a Conservative Supervisor.

District 3 has a lot of liberals in SLO and working class Democrats in Grover.

I can’t ever remember a Conservative Supervisor in District 3. Lenthall was a Moderate Republican.

It is the Same with the Congressional District. Katcho is the best the Republicans can do because his moderate views align well with the District.

Politics is the art of the possible. Remember, Peterson or Carpenter both would be huge improvements over the petulant Adam Hill.


What is ‘conservative’ about opposing civil liberties, or any liberties ?


True on both counts.

just the facts

Hey Don the Beachcomber…interesting to know that you believe Debbie P is showing great courage explaining her ACLU support position! You best check with your candidate and ask why she spoke at a recent December Tea Party meeting seeking support as a candidate for 3rd District Supervisor. You suggest this is a Dan Carpenter-Tea Party inspired attack! NOT!

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