Otay Water Board member Gastellum can't be removed for Facebook, Twitter posts

His targets include Muslims, women, LGBT and Somalis

Otay Water District customers were forced to pay for improvements that they would not benefit from.
  • Otay Water District customers were forced to pay for improvements that they would not benefit from.

The Otay Water District board of directors voted 4-1 to censure director Hector Gastelum for his posts to Facebook and Twitter, including some that referred to Muslims as "subhuman scum" Monday afternoon after hearing many calls for his resignation.

Gastelum: "I apologized; If you can't accept that, that's on you."

Gastelum: "I apologized; If you can't accept that, that's on you."

But the board is unable to remove Gastelum, because he was elected by voters; which leaves the exit door only as a result of resignation or a recall campaign.

About 50 local residents, including Iraqi Muslims and Chaldeans, military veterans, community activists, women and members of the LGBT community spoke passionately, shaming Gastelum and demanding he resign.

This meeting is the second meeting where Gastelum's communications have been discussed — this time with the successful move to censure the director, in a four-to-one vote, with Gastelum voting for himself.

In March, the board discussed those communications, and Gastelum offered what he thought was an explanation and an apology.

"I apologized," he said Monday. "If you can't accept that, that's on you."

Directors Mitch Thompson and Tim Smith introduced the three-page motion to censure Gastelum as soon as meeting rules allowed.

Thompson said he takes launching a censure of a fellow board member seriously. "It has never happened here before," he said. "Director Gastelum's public behavior is reprehensible and intolerable."

In March, the board and many of the same people who attended Monday's session confronted Gastelum about tweets where he referred to Muslims as "subhuman scum." (Which Muslims he was talking about is in dispute. Gastelum contends he was referring only to terrorists.)

At one point, according to several people who were at the March meeting, Gastelum challenged the outraged public to stand up against terrorism and demanded to know if they supported the rights of women — particularly, their wives.

Right out of the gate from the contentious March meeting and his apparently weak apology, Gastelum unleashed a series of Trump-inspired tweets suggesting we could '#MakeWomenGreatAgain' and lauding deportation of 4,000 Somalis (as reported on Breitbart.com) as a great start.

Thus he attracted a greater cross-section of newly insulted people. And they came. The Council for American-Islamic Relations, two Iraqi refugees — one Muslim and one Chaldean — who attained citizenship after harrowing years as refugees; more women — some in scarves and some in khakis, and Dave Patterson from Veterans for Peace.

"Your bigotry and racism violates all the values we believe we were defending during our service," Patterson said. "It would be a great calamity if we let fear give rise to racism."

Speakers pointed out that America's strength lies in her diversity, and testified about terrible journeys as refugees — one man is the son of a translator who worked for the U.S military — to reach the U.S. and how it can feel like they still may not be safe.

"All we wanted was an apology and we would have walked away," said Fayaz Nawabi, spokesman for the council. "That's all we wanted." Instead, a month after the first confrontation, the call for Gastelum to resign came again and again.

"You have lost all credibility in the community," said former serviceman and current Pastor Jason Frater. "You have shown an unprecedented lack of judgement." Other board members were just as perturbed. "You lack the ability to understand the profound impact your comments have on our community," Mitch Thompson said.

"I have to question whether he can represent this divers group of folks," director Gary Croucher said.

Above all, the board president lamented that Gastelum's poor judgment in his communications and the surrounding drama and controversy meant that the water district board had been dragged into territory it would not ever have gone on its own.

"Our business is water and we've spent an hour of our time and the staff's time on something that has nothing to do with water," Mark Roback said.

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So the water board can't waterboard him? ;-)

He's guilty of felony stupid; as a businessman he should be far more circumspect. But he was making the comments as a private citizen. Was the water board "dragged" into this, or did it allow itself to be dragged into it? Seems to me the other board members could have decided that doing the business of the district was far more important than castigating one of its members, and to simply let it pass. One way or the other, he'll get his comeuppance at the ballot box. Or will he? Maybe he speaks for more voters than most people think.

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