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Council to consider reopening public comments zia Zoom
Ceres city seal new

The Ceres City Council will be considering allowing the public to once again provide input into city business conducted at its meetings via the Zoom platform.

The City Council decided to “temporarily” ban the public from providing verbal comments at meetings through the Zoom platform after two Zoom callers pranked the council and uttered inflammatory racist comments during the Sept. 25, 2023 City Council meeting. Other cities had experienced similar incidences of “Zoom bombing.”

In April Ceres Vice Mayor Bret Silveira signaled that he wants members of the public to be able to provide input via Zoom during Ceres City Council meetings. But for the matter to be acted upon, the council had to place the matter on a future agenda – which it did last week – and the council decided to proceed with formally taking a vote at a meeting this month.

“I believe there’s been enough time, there hasn’t been any more of those happenings happening to cities, counties or whoever,” said Silveira. “I think it’s time to start allowing people who are unable to be in the room here to log into Zoom … comments again.”

Ceres resident John Warren agreed with Silveira.

“If the problem creeps up and takes place, the same thing can happen – you can shut it down and discontinue the comments,” said Warren, “but I do believe the public needs access to these meetings if they can’t be here and they wish to make comments.”

The COVID pandemic of 2020 and social distancing practices birthed a new practice of elected officials conducting business both remotely and allowing the public to watch and comment via the Zoom internet platform. Ceres continues to broadcast meetings live on Zoom but banned the public not in the room from commenting because of what happened last September.

Since September, only public comments submitted to the city clerk via email could be read at the meetings if the person was not physically present.

Last year Silveira and Councilman James Casey were opposed to shutting down public comment via Zoom but were outvoted by Lopez, and Councilmembers Daniel Martinez and Rosalinda Vierra. Before that vote in 2023, Silveira called the comments “terrible and atrocious,” but cautioned against a knee-jerk reaction to ban all Zoom comments, adding he hated to “take the access away from our constituents … when they can’t make it to the meetings.”

The Sept. 25 Zoom bombing incident came during a public hearing regarding unmet public transit needs in the county. An individual identifying himself as Jim Atkinson used offensive and racially disparaging terms for those who use the city bus. The remark dropped jaws in the audience, including Jean Foletta, StanCOG’s Director of Mobility Programs, standing at the podium.

A second caller who phoned in seemed serious in his comments but then trolled, “We need to purchase as many cattle cars that we can to ship these n*****s and k***s back to their homeland where they came….”

Lopez immediately shut both callers down and suspected the others who lined up in the cue were waiting to pull a similar prank. The mayor called the two callers “a bunch of clowns” and ordered an end to public comments via Zoom due to the lack of decorum. His order was backed by Goldstein “for now” because of “the breach of decorum.”

Not all were happy when the mayor shut down the ability of Zoom users to comment. Ceres resident Gene Yeakley wasn’t present at the meeting but didn’t appreciate the mayor’s actions.

“These people deprived me and some other people from voicing their selves from public communication,” Yeakley told the Courier after the decision.