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.

fishing village

This message contains far to many ‘subjects, issues’ to respond to them all. My experience with local government hasn’t been good. In past years the mayor would listen to what you said and then attack you and it! Fortunately, he’s no longer here. There are so many meetings in our community we have plenty of opportunity to speak out. I have been chased away by the behavior of a few who spoke/speak at the Supervisor’s meetings. Who needs the ugliness!! I appreciate your efforts Debbie Peterson to express your feelings. I’ll try to copy and respond/comment one paragraph at a time.


Charles Tenborg Caught Dumping PG&E Hazardous Waste at Cold Canyon Landfill.


Jim Anderson

This is what I have been able to gather. Tenborg was dumping PG&E hazardous waste illegally at Cold Canyon Landfill. CCN reported it and called PG&E front man and Team Adam Hill member Tom Jones to ask if he knew Tenborg was mishandling Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s hazardous waste. Tom Jones made a call. Next, Adam Hill was called and then James Wagstaffe. Wagstaffe has already worked for Adam Hill and his internet troll pro bono in the past. Wagstaffe is very dear friends and work mates with local SLO lawyer and admitted Team Adam Hill member Steve Adamski. James Wagstaffe and Kerr Wagstaffe are representing Charles Tenborg pro bono. Political corruption and cronyism, and the most blatant display at that.


What does this have to do with the article ?

Just more strawman troll dumping.

what the

Aside from your speed, you are not sure if you are coming or going, are you, Slowerfaster?

just the facts

Just to note…America is a REPUBLIC and not a democracy. Our Founding Fathers abhorred democracies where majorities rule. Check out this website for documentation or do your own research:


As stated in the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands.” Unfortunately, Debbie Peterson and her supporters do not know the form of government given to us by the Founding Fathers. They gave us a Republic with a written Constitution that protects the rights of minorities. There is no mention of a democracy in our Constitution.

The oligarchy that rules today needs all to believe we have a democracy where the majority rules. It fits their agenda. Please reread the Constitution to appreciate the freedoms we have as a Republic!


No, the oligarchy that rules today needs only to fool enough people ( not all ) that we live in a republic, when we don’t in practice. Hardly takes a majority….just a loud and dumb faction.


What the Founding Fathers gave us was a framework in which to proceed,

Regardless, this is a county Supervisor position. It shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out the qualities you would like to see in the person who performs that role. Then, you can vote (or not) for that person as you see appropriate.

Yes, it really is that simple.

debbie peterson

Just the facts – I can’t support your assumption that neither I or my supporters know our form of government.

However, I really appreciate you making the very important distinction between a republic and a democracy. It is one that, if researched and understood will make all of us better citizens and better representatives.

It is part of the brilliance of our founding fathers that they put into place the checks and balances and restraints of a republic.


Totally agree with this. I also am impressed with your inclusion of the word ‘restraints’….something that is all too lacking in much of the current political conversation, and in the behaviors of easily influenced ordinary citizens and so many grandstanding politicians.

Despite my earlier posting, I do wish you well and a Happy New Year , going forward. Didn’t intend for my comment to sound personal ( though I realize it does/could read that way ). So, apologies from me. I should have been more dispassionate and general in my reply.

Participation from ‘idealists’ is indeed a requisite for the continuation and maybe even salvation for a vigorous civilization.


As soon as you realize that we are a Republic, and what the difference is between “democracy” and a representative government such as ours, you will have to scrutinize the beliefs and actions of your ACLU, whose leftist philosophy and actions are biased beyond belief. I challenge you to study its recent history.

After that, you will be led to study the leftist beliefs and extremely biased actions of the SCLC. A landslide of understanding will occur.

Are you actually willing to do your homework, Debbie?

Do facts matter?

Or is your agenda to gain attention, power, influence?


We have a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Election are open to any citizen who are free to contest any office. We can vote for anyone; even if it is by write-in vote.


And thanks to the incredibly leftwing/socialist bias of organizations such as the ACLA and the SCLC, we are losing our freedoms and rights.


Correction: ACLU


In the absence of civil discourse, diversity, and democracy we have had Adam.

In the presence of dignity, integrity, morality, and a social conscience we have Debbie



I wish every council member and county supervisor showed the willingness and capacity to “engage the process” the way Debbie Peterson has. The fact is, they don’t, and that needs to change. But, what I really like is the overall message here, where the final benefit of engaging in the process is not for the individual, but for the overall population. In an effort to benefit someone’s selfish interests, some will slam Debbie Peterson or the ACLU, or any representative or citizen, simply for asking the tough questions and following through. Debbie Peterson is showing the leadership skills she would expect from others, thereby STRENGTHENING the process. The process, in this case, is Democracy. But, the lessons are equally beneficial in Capitalism, in social situations, etc.

Obviously, Team Adam Hill has a significant challenge before it. But, what is Adam Hill’s primary weakness in representing the overall population is apparently Debbie Peterson’s strength. For Dan Carpenter, I can’t say that choosing to move on from an environment where you are frequently on the dissenting side of 4-1 votes is advancing from position of power. If he believes SLO is seriously that screwed up, shouldn’t he continue to engage the challenges before him? I have seen councils turn from 1-4 before, and it wasn’t because that “1” decided to move on.

I look forward to the upcoming debate and hearing more from each candidate. My feeling is the community is engaged and is also interested in learning more about what these candidates intend to bring to District 3. But, from what I have seen, the choice is clear.


I thought we wanted honesty and transparency for our political figures. I do, and I appeciate Ms. Peterson telling her side.

It is good to know the major groups and issues in a candidate’s district, regardless of their political leaning. More information and education is never a bad thing.


Ms. Peterson …I get it ! You are an idealist. That’s noble, and you undoubtedly have admirable principles.

But …What do we do with the fascists amongst us ? What do we do, how do we treat those with such warped, misguided, …and yes, WRONG philosophies and opinions ?

IMO, they are NOT equal; and should not be given equal or even ANY participation in the body politic …whatever size the forum.

Some would take a knife to a gun-fight. You would take some library books to any fight.

My advice to a ‘nice’ person such as you ( as I believe you are ), is to stay out of politics.

You’re just not suited for it. Not today. Perhaps in a John Kennedy ‘Camelot’.

But right now, we’re dealing with reactionary morons, racists, and killers. And they’ll use you, and then run you over.

I would not like to see that happen.

Mike Byrd

The day idealists abandon the political field is the day our idealistic experiment as a democratic republic officially ends.


Mike: Yes, idealism …but idealism tempered with realism.

For a democratic republic to work; ‘discourse’ ( open conversation and compromise ), diversity, and democracy …all three have to be part of the equation.

There are some in the political spectrum that don’t believe in these 3 ‘D’s’, or not all of them. Oh, they might SAY they are for discourse and diversity …as long as it applies to THEM. And many are small ‘d’ democrats only when they are in a plurality, not even a majority.

We ( the US ) are just about at the point you mention: where the voices of idealism are drowned out and incapacitated by the forces of unreason. Perhaps we’re already past it.

I pose the same question Steinbeck did, in regards towards the fascists and nihilists that would dominate and tyrannize the rest of us: “What do we DO with these people ? “.

Mike Byrd

Liking your three Ds.


So, she should only fight the fights she can win? what sort of lame approach to life is that?

You should fight the fights that NEED fighting.

I certainly hope you DON’T consider yourself a progressive. A wimp perhaps…but not a progressive.

Like the patriot Paul Revere, Debbie is a messenger of revolution…that being the end of Adam’s reign of terror.


Dear Pelican: Progressives are friends, and I find much commonality and fraternity within that community.

But I am a revolutionary in the mold of Thomas Paine, Thorstein Veblen, Gore Vidal, and George Carlin.

I’m quite confident that you are aware of Paine, Carlin, and maybe Gore. As to Veblen: Google is your friend.


( BTW, Adam Hill is NOT Robespierre ).






Yo Don. Tea partiers are also legally entitled to vote and hold opinions as citizens( at least for now) and should be respected for their views, equally as legitimate as your’s. Continue the marginalization and you will fail. GFY


People are not ‘entitled’ to their opinion: if that opinion is wrong, or dangerous and destructive.

Nazi’s, KKK’ers, John Birchers, and their fellow-travelers are NOT to be respected for their views. They’re to be despised. They’re to be isolated, encircled, quarantined, and ignored ( or dispatched ).

They’re NOT legitimate; and are antithetical to the idea and promise of freedom, democracy, and self-government that America is supposed to embody.


…and You need to do your homework before you pontificate. You are spouting hearsay. Come back when you’ve actually researched what “John-Birchers” and “fellow-travellers’ ” intents and actions were.

Also rlet us know, please, what you learn about the corruption of the word “democracy” to achieve political ends.