This was not the story I planned on writing today.
Last night at the Ocean view school District board meeting, myself and a handful of other citizens spoke on a variety of issues, several of them centered on what we consider to be the questionable public behavior of trustee John Briscoe. To my knowledge, not one of these people has ever had a cross word or any kind of personal tension with anybody on the school board.
Yet, there was evidently an extra police officer in the room. As I learned today, that officer was requested by school Board President Gina Clayton Tarvin because she supposedly feared for her physical safety. Our group spoke with respect, passion and efficiency. There was nothing even approaching any sort of threat.
So that’s why our city last night had one less officer out in the field.
The “smoking e-mail ?”
Then today, something else happened. There is a Facebook forum dedicated to Ocean View school district issues. In the last several weeks I have posted a few of my articles there and, when certain members freely challenged me as to why I was writing what I was writing, I answered them back. The discussions never reached anything even approaching insults or attacks. It was simply adults occasionally disagreeing about topic.
Today I received part of an email in which a number of the group’s administrators were discussing the fact that they had been contacted by Clayton Tarvin. About me. I’m going to reproduce much of the language here and where necessary, in parentheses, will be answering some of the comments specifically. I have edited them only to protect an attack they made on another citizen. That’s another situation altogether.
After that, I’m going to recount what else I know about Clayton Tarvin and how she has behaved with me in the past.
I have removed the moderator names for privacy reasons. But they know who they are (and the time codes are accurate)
- 6:57 am ADMIN 1: Great, Gina is asking to speak with me on the phone today… any of you get a pm from her as well?
- 7:06am ADMIN 2: Nope. You must be the lucky one.
- 7:07am ADMIN 1: Yea, lucky… that’s the word…
- 7:09am ADMIN 2: I wonder what she’s going to say. I always prefer everything in writing
- 7:09am ADMIN 1: I will give her a chance to speak. If she makes any demands I will ask for it in writing. She’s a teacher, right?
(APPROX. AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER)
- 8:34am ADMIN 1: We have a mess. I am awaiting a call from the chief of HBPD as well as a letter from the OVSD lawyers
- 8:35am ADMIN 2: ?
- 8:35am ADMIN 1: We have to remove Epting
- 8:35am ADMIN 2: What happened
- 8:36am ADMIN 1: let me get back to you when I get to my computer. Lots to type but my phone is tough smile emoticon
- 9:50am ADMIN 1OK, so now that I can actually type… Chris Epting has been harassing/stalking several members of our forum including Merkle, Gina and a few others. The HBPD is investigating and working with Gina’s attorneys to file an injunction and to silence Epting in regards to his attacks on these members.
- (THIS IS ABSOLUTELY, 100% FALSE. IN FACT, I RECENTLY BLOCKED MS. MERKLE BECAUSE I FELT I WAS BEING HARASSED BY *HER* AND HAD ENOUGH. I HAVE ALL THE EXCHANGES AND AM HAPPY TO SHARE WHEN NEEDED. MERKLE WAS THE ONE THAT TOOK A SECRET PHOTO OF MS. CLAYTON TARVIN AND MYSELF CHATTING LAST YEAR AND POSTED IT ONLINE. ALSO, THERE IS NOT ONE PRIVATE MESSAGE BETWEEN MYSELF AND ANYONE ON THAT FORUM REGARDING PERSONAL ATTACKS AGAINST THEM OR BEING HARASSED.)
- 9:52am ADMIN 2: Did you already remove Epting
- 9:52am ADMIN 1: Both the HBPD and the attorney’s are hoping to cut off Epting’s rants on our boards. She is going to file a restraining order and as Chris tends to do, they fear he is going to use that as a smear on Gina.
(IT IS ‘SMEARING’ SOMEONE IF YOU EXPOSE THEIR PLOT TO SILENCE YOU? AND WHY IS STATING AN OPINION CALLED A “RANT”?)
- ADMIN 1: I told Gina that in order for the 3 of us to stay out of Chris’ firing line I would need a letter from the attorney and a phone call from HBPD informing us of the actions. This way we can simply state that we have been legally advised to remove him. takes it off our shoulders
- 9:53am ADMIN 2: Makes sense Such drama
- 9:53am ADMIN 1: As for (NAME REDACTED)… I am trying to get the actual charges from Gina so we know what we are up against. He has come close to physical harm to Gina (according to her) and they have a photo of it.
- (I SPOKE TO THE PERSON IN QUESTION. EVIDENTLY THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE LIE, AND HE WILL HIRE A LAWYER TO HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR SMEARS LIKE THIS)
- 9:54am ADMIN 1: they had to have HBPD send a group of officers to the rally to protect Gina from Epting/(name retracted)
- (THEY ARE REFERRING TO THE RALLY IN MAY. I INTERVIEWED GINA, IT WAS PROFESSIONAL, POLITE AND ACTUALLY FUN. THIS PERSON AS WELL HAD LIGHT AND FRIENDLY WORDS WITH GINA AT THE EVENT. THIS IS FALSE TO A POINT OF BEING LIBELOUS, IN MY VIEW)
- 9:54am ADMIN 1: the other nasty piece that we cant discuss publicly is that Epting is now working for Republic/Rainbow so a whole lot of this makes more sense now
- 9:55am ADMIN 2: Like contracted or just writing a piece
- 9:56am ADMIN 1: Gina stopped communicating with Epting because he is funneling all of the conversations he has with Gina to the CEO of Republic.
(I HAVE NEVER SPOKEN TO THE CEO OF REPUBLIC IN MY LIFE. NOR WORKED FOR THEM. EVER. I HAVE BEEN THERE ONCE FOR A TOUR, ONCE FOR AN INTERVIEW AND ONCE FOR A WINTERSBURG MEETING. THAT’S IT. I HAVE *ZERO* WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH RAINBOW/REPUBLIC OUTSIDE OF BEING A CONCERNED CITIZEN. AND AGAIN, I BELIEVE THIS IS FALSE TO A POINT OF BEING LIBELOUS.)
- ADMIN 1 (CONTINUED) She didn’t go into the extent… but magically (recently) Epting’s daughter got a college scholarship from (sp) Rainbow
(THIS IS THE ONE THAT REALLY GOT ME. DID MS. CLAYTON TARVIN SUGGEST THERE IS A CONNECTION BETWEEN ME, RAINBOW AND MY DAUGHTER? MY DAUGHTER COMPETED AND WON THE MISS HUNTINGTON BEACH TITLE ON HER OWN. RAINBOW IS A SPONSOR OF THE SAND DOLLARS’ COMPETITION. IS *THAT* THE CONNECTION SHE IS MAKING? THIS IS, IN MY VIEW, AN ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING CONFLATION BEING MADE, PRESUMABLY BY CLAYTON-TARVIN, AT LEAST AS IT READS HERE.THIS MADE ME SICK TO READ, AS A PARENT. THESE PEOPLE SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES. BUT CLEARLY THEY ARE NOT.)
- ADMIN 1: it is a bunch of drama and I really don’t want to be a part of it. I will wait for the correspondence and then dump him.
- ADMIN 2: Maybe delete all his postings following as well
- 10:00am ADMIN 1: yep anything pertaining to Gina is probably going to need to get squashed(YOU CAN FEEL THE CHILL OF THE SPEECH POLICE AS THE NOTE ENDS – AND I DID CONFIRM WITH THE MODERATOR THAT THIS HAPPENED JUST AS HE WROTE THIS MORNING)
How it all started
Last April, there was an article in the Orange County register whereby Clayton-Tarvin was quoted as saying, “The OVSD has also filed a nuisance lawsuit against Rainbow Environmental Services and its owner Republic Services to get the trash processing plant to enclose all operations or shut them down.”
I posted the article with this simple comment: Rainbow does a lot of good for this community. And they are responsible stewards in HB. I sense more is going on here. Thoughts?
That simple comment unleashed a full blood of negative comments toward me online led by Clayton-Tarvin and many of her supporters/followers. My simple premise was, why in the world was she talking about shutting the place down? (The OVSD recently also suggested it–so I think we now see where this all is really headed)
I was aware of the ongoing lawsuits but also aware that both parties were in the midst of trying to resolve things and so this seemed rather extreme to me. Within a couple of Facebook forums we spent the better part of a month, as many other people did, engaging and debating. I received a slew of nasty, and in some cases extremely vulgar private messages from people who supported Clayton-Tarvin. In most cases I ignored them, in other cases I blocked the parties. But that is where I left it. As things quieted down and the May 5 rally approached, I reached out to Ms. Clayton-Tarvin to ask about interviewing her for a newspaper article I was thinking about writing.
My one and only meeting with Clayton-Tarvin
That day at the rally, after interviewing the OVSD lawyer and trustee John Briscoe, I saw Clayton-Tarvin and I introduced myself. I asked her if we could speak for a couple of minutes and if I may record it. She said “No problem.” Before the interview started she introduced her son to mine and they talked for a moment about both being baseball fans. We then had what I would consider to be a strong and enjoyable 10 or so minute conversation. I mentioned that Ms. Clayton-Tarvin had said she had never even been to Rainbow so I asked her if she wanted me to try and arrange a tour and maybe even lunch over there. She agreed that might be a good idea.I had been to Rainbow the week before to conduct my own interviews about concerns I had about their operations.
As the interview ended, my then 21-year-old son said to me, “You know dad, it really is true. It’s better when you talk to people in person. That was a really great conversation.” I completely agreed. I thought Clayton-Tarvin was serious, smart and seemed committed to what she was doing. I was impressed.
A couple of days later I followed up with her to let her know that I enjoyed speaking to her, to offer to visit her schools to talk about writing and also follow-up on the meeting at rainbow. This was the exact exchange:
She never got back to me.
The smear begins
Around this time, a photo was posted online of Gina and I talking during our interview. It was taken by Golden View PTO president (and close Clayton-Tarvin friend) Jodi Merkle. At first it seemed good-natured enough. People joked about the bag I was carrying, and both Gina and my footwear. I never thought twice about that picture. Being Italian, my hand is raised because, well, it’s just how I talk.
But then something strange happened a couple of days later. I received a message from someone who runs the Huntington Beach Community Forum, Michael Daly. This is exactly what he said to me, about the rally: “Gina was terrified when you hunted her down and yelled at her.” I asked him where he had gotten such a preposterous idea, and he wouldn’t say. At this point, I actually thought somebody was smearing Gina. So I told him I was going to call her and ask her about it. His response? “I don’t think she wants to talk to you. You don’t want to be a “stalker.”
A day later somebody shared this image with me. The person that had accused me of “hunting her down” was now using it to smear me by sending it to various people. Note the caption.
A smear was beginning to take place, I was concerned, and so I contacted Gina. I was concerned for her reputation as well as mine. This was what I wrote:
She was reading the messages, but not replying. Then this happened:
Not “at liberty” to deny a flat-out lie? That seemed absurd (still does). Then I wondered–did she help concoct it?
I would not be able to ask.
That was the last response I have ever received from Gina Clayton-Tarvin; May 14, 2015.
The formal attack campaign begins
Soon after this exchange, I received a call from my editor at the Huntington Beach Independent newspaper. They had begun, out of the blue, receiving a slew of complaints about me arguing that I have become somebody that was “In the pocket of Rainbow.” Which was absurd. I had *zero* connection to Rainbow,as they themselves have admitted in the face of these lies. Recruits were sending dozens of screen grabs of online conversations, but there was little there to make a case. I received one specific call from my editor who told me that an anonymous person had written him that I was now going door to door in my neighborhood, angrily trying to convince people about what a great company Rainbow is. This was getting insane. And scary. My editor said that by law they had to at least ask me about the absurd charge. But that the person who was complaining, who of course demanded anonymity, could provide no evidence and so it ended there.
It appeared I had been branded the “Rainbow guy” and I was going to be treated as such by OVSD supporters.
As I was told, the newspaper does have a policy of columnists not being able to engage in social media on the levels that I was. But I willfully violated the policy, because defending my reputation against the growing smear campaigns being launched was more valuable to me than my column.
Things got even stranger. Over the summer, an online commenter made an outrageous charge against me, suggesting that I was anti-Mexican. As I stared, stunned at the remark, in five seconds a note popped up. “Gina Clayton Tarvin likes this.”
I was seriously annoyed by this. Why would the head of the OVSD endorse something this vicious and baseless? it was late Monday afternoon and I posted on Facebook that I was headed to City Hall to address this during public comments. I had had enough.
When I arrived and wrote my name down on a speaker’s card, my cell phone rang. My editor said, “Chris, we heard from somebody that you’re going to speak at City Hall tonight about the school board. And you’re not allowed to do that.” For one, I had no idea about this rule. I had spoken at City Council dozens of times on other issues and it had never been a problem. But then again, those times nobody was monitoring me and regularly sending everything that I did to my editor. What if I speak, I asked? I was told I would lose my column. So that night I went home, frustrated and confused.
On this level, I definitely fault the newspaper’s policy of curbing free speech. But to be dogged and monitored so closely by people connected the school district was for me, a bit chilling.
It was communicated to me by somebody at the newspaper soon after that, the Clayton-Tarvin had actually spoken to one of my editors about me specifically. The more this went on, the more I felt like there was a bigger story here that nobody was telling: that of an oppressive school Board President that looked to silence voices that didn’t follow her narrative or agenda.
That is simply my opinion based on my own experiences.
The final straw
When the paper allowed a rebuttal editorial against an article that I had written regarding some OVSD supporters use of the term “environmental racism,” I expressed my dissatisfaction with them that they had allowed it to be a personal attack which included a couple of baseless accusations against me. I have no problem with criticism, but you have to have your facts together.
I was attacked even more online by a number of OVSD supporters, and I chose to answer back. I knew this would spell the end of the column, but a higher principle was involved.
When my column ended several weeks ago, I started this blog, SurfCityChronicles.com. As a writer, I thought this was how I could continue telling stories in the city. One of those stories that’s important to me involves certain things happening at OVSD and obviously many others have issues with. This would include the public behavior of trustee John Briscoe. Since starting this blog, I’ve written a number of pieces that challenge the board often times, using their own words as the basis for my articles. I have reached out to various board members for comments and have never received a response in terms of an interview. But not once have I ever behaved unprofessionally or harassed any of them. My requests are always polite and professional. As well, when I’ve spoken at the board meetings, though my words may be firm, they are clear, to the point and I believe, perfectly appropriate in terms of a citizen expressing their view.
Are you going to tolerate this?
Now I find out that the school board president, perhaps in light of my newfound freedom as a writer who’s actually able to focus on their words and actions, is now seemingly in the process of trying to silence my voice. And I was not supposed to know this of course.
Think about that. An elected official, somebody I help pay for with my taxes, and you too, now supposedly trying to silence someone’s ability to express themselves. Read what she told them. I think this is an outrage. I think this is a blatant and egregious attempt to not just silent somebody’s voice but also tarnish the reputation in the process. And it doesn’t just involve me. As I said, the email I shared earlier in this article clearly goes after another citizen who also spoke professionally and politely last night. And has never done anything that even approaches harassment or stalking.
This is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. I have no idea what their next move is going to be. But as citizens, if the idea of an elected school official trying to silence someone’s voice doesn’t outrage you, then I just can’t understand it. And the insidious lies being made up out of whole cloth. It has nothing to do about whether you agree or disagree with me. I have done absolutely nothing to warrant what I read is happening today. Nothing even approaching that. This is absolutely a grotesque abuse of power and certainly a potential waste of public resources. And I’m going to make sure it becomes a national story.
And if this person decides they want to go to court and force this issue, I welcome the opportunity to expose them for the destructive people that they clearly are. And I hope you join me in the fight.
This is not the story I planned on writing today.
But I’m actually very glad that I had the opportunity to tell it. Because now you know the truth. And you know what the city appears to be up against.