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Public comment at local government meetings is becoming more hostile

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Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chambers. Courtesy of County of Shasta.

Vaccine misinformation and rowdy behavior are at times derailing city council and board of supervisors meetings in parts of the North State.

At a Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting in September, one resident became angry when a supervisor moved to take a break during her comment after she started swearing.

"How are you going to take three when I'm talking?,” she said. “How disrespectful! Quit being a f------ coward!"

In an October Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting, another resident spoke in opposition to vaccine and mask mandates imposed by the state.

"We're not asking you guys to declare independence from the United States,” he said. “We're asking you to declare independence from unlawful, tyrannical government mandates. That's all we're asking, that's it!... This isn't a jurisdictional issue, it's an issue of three cowards on this board.”

At that meeting, the public comment period lasted over five hours before the board could address any items on the agenda.

Ryan Sabalow, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, co-authored an article called, “How angry extremists are drowning out local California governments." He said the rhetoric and hostile tone has not died down during the course of the pandemic.

"In some cases, it's getting to the point where it's becoming very difficult to actually conduct the business of government," he said.

Frustration over mandates and mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine have driven some to make a stand against their local government. Sabalow said much of that discussion is based on misinformation.

"We're not really having a discussion about policy based on the same sets of facts,” he said. “We're having discussions where a very vocal faction of some of these communities believes in things that are demonstrably not true. How do you set policy in that sort of environment?"

One example would be when commenters claim the COVID-19 vaccine is ineffective, despite the fact that vaccination is highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sabalow said the trend of extreme language and the fight over vaccine mandates has also spread to local school boards.

"There's hundreds of these school boards across California,'' he said. “And they're each kind of having to figure out what they're going to do with masks and vaccine mandates and all that."

During one meeting in Rockland, he said the school board brought in law enforcement due to parents and activists becoming hostile. He worries this could become more normalized and discourage people from running for public office in the first place.

"It's disruptive,” he said. “Whether you agree or disagree with whatever these folks are saying. It's making it really, really difficult to hold board meetings anymore.”