Mountain View Voice

News - May 3, 2013

Former arts chair seeks $300K in damages

by Daniel DeBolt

Former arts committee chair Chris Parkinson is seeking $300,000 from the city for its response to a series of controversial comments made online, according to a claim filed with Mountain View and letters sent to the city attorney's office.

The city rejected his claim via a letter dated April 24. According to the response letter from City Attorney Jannie Quinn, the claim was rejected for "failing to describe factual circumstances" and for not providing the names of city officials "who caused damages or injury."

A comment posted on the Voice's website in March was a reaction to a story about where to place two large, donated portions of the Berlin Wall. The comment objected to remarks by council member Ronit Bryant, noting that she is from Israel and claimed that "she is a Rothschild mind and it shows."

The Rothschilds were a wealthy Jewish family often cited in conspiracy theories, "an allusion to a notion that Jews control the world," said Seth Brysk of the Anti-Defamation League, who has called the comments "bigoted, anti-Semitic (and) bizarre" — the "type of reasoning, if you can call it that, is exactly what the Nazis used to justify the attempt at genocide and to commit the crimes of the Holocaust."

The comments were posted by "Chris Parkinson," and in subsequent phone interviews and emails with the Voice, Parkinson at first acknowledged writing the post and expanded on its contents, then later claimed his identity had been stolen and someone else had posted under his name.

After receiving a letter from the mayor saying that he had violated the city's code of conduct, Parkinson resigned his appointed post on the arts committee before the City Council could vote to remove or censure him at its April 16 meeting.

In the claim, Parkinson requests damages for the "threatening emails and hate filled posting" he said he has received following the comments. "These damages have resulted in fear for personal safety, defamation, and personal attacks to claimant" as well as "employment capacity damage" he writes in the claim.

He blames the city for "leaking (a) personal letter." The city released copies of both the mayor's letter to Parkinson admonishing him for his conduct, and his letters pressuring council member Bryant to drop what he perceives as a campaign against him — all of which are public records.

Bryant has declined all of the Voice's requests for comment.

Parkinson also says in the claim that his rights to "due process" were violated because he was not allowed to participate in a closed-session City Council meeting about his comments. City Attorney Quinn said no such meeting took place before he filed his claim.

At the same time Parkinson was denying having made the comments on the Voice's website, claiming that his email account had been hijacked, he seems to defend his comments in the April 12 letter to the city attorney's office.

"To refresh your memory poking fun at a council member (A public Official mind you) was done tongue and cheek," he writes. "Nothing I said was false all were true made alight of fun facts coming from their own resources."

Parkinson promised a lawsuit if city officials did not agree to his April 12 $300,000 settlement offer by April 15.

"Lack of communication will not be tolerated as I have on my desk right now the motion for defamation tort litigation ready to go," Parkinson wrote. "I also have from my attorney and huge package including summons and complaint with et-al including city staff, council members, and committee members, the Voice, Daniel Debolt, the editor of the Voice, and some people to be identified that threatened my person and family, and made threatening allegations against myself." He adds that "failing to pursue good faith negotiation will result in severe litigation towards all parties mentioned for years to come."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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