Aaron Ochs is the author of “Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community & Those Who Dared to Fight It,” a nonfiction uncovering the defamatory, deceptive and criminal practices of online tabloid CalCoastNews.
Five years ago, I made a mistake. When I served on Morro Bay’s Recreation & Parks Commission, I got a lot of valuable life experience from serving on a government-led committee. The problem was I lacked the maturity to strike a balance between my resentment of the degradation of civil discourse and respect toward civil servants and my responsibilities as someone in a leadership role. As a result being a little too opinionated about some Los Osos residents who engaged in personal attacks at the podium at Board of Supervisors meeting and satirically mocking them, I was subjected to this unorthodox, seemingly anonymous smear campaign to unseat me from the commission. Then I resigned so that residents would no longer be subjected to harassment.
Fast forward five years later to news that San Luis Obispo County Planning Commissioner Jim Harrison resigned from his post nearly a week after it was discovered that he shared offensive memes on his Facebook profile, which compared Democrats to Nazis, and fanned flames of xenophobia and racism. The Planning Commission is a government body traditionally considered to be nonpartisan, so it was certainly eye-opening to see Harrison alienating a significant chunk of his constituency. He was so brazen in his actions that it was inconceivable to assume he wasn’t trying to incite outrage, yet he was Nipomo’s Citizen of the Year. He was active in his community as a volunteer and leader. He was responsible. And after giving a meager Facebook apology for posting content that “offended some people,” he reluctantly stepped down and declined the Citizen of the Year award. The county supervisor who appointed him to the Planning Commission, Lynn Compton, declined to issue any statement about Harrison’s posts.
This is when my past meets the present.
When I was in a similar committee position to Harrison, I was critical of a handful of citizens outside of my community for going before government bodies to personally attack officials or make salacious allegations. They were demanding civility of their elected representatives when they couldn’t commit to observing the same…