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A flier distributed in Cotati this week mocking support for a June 3 ballot measure to raise the city's sales tax is sparking heated objections and promises of legal action by those who say the mailer falsely quotes them.

The two-page flier titled "Who's Behind Measure G the massive one percent Cotati sales tax increase?" purports to quote four current City Council members, one deceased council member, the city manager, the police chief, two business owners, a community activist and the town historian with comments favorable to a tax hike.

The problem is, several of them said, the words are fabricated. At least two of them are exploring their legal options.

The flier, hand-distributed to an unknown number of people, is unsigned. But recalled city council member and city gadfly George Barich acknowledged Wednesday he produced the piece, which he called a newsletter, not campaign literature.

The piece includes what appear to be quotations from City Manager Dianne Thompson and Police Chief Michael Parish, suggesting Thompson is dishonest and Parish is willing to arrest critics at City Council meetings.

The piece asserts Thompson said: "Telling the truth is an option and a choice this council will simply have to make ... To balance a city budget, sometimes you just have to get creative with the numbers."

It quotes Parish as saying: "If we don't raise more taxes, I may have to take a pay cut. Furthermore, I can and I will arrest anyone calling me or any city council member a liar during a city council meeting."

Thompson and Parish both said they never said those words to Barich or anyone else.

"I did not say that, nor would I ever say that," Parish said Thursday. "I think his goal is just to distort the truth."

Although Parish characterized the piece as "slander and libel against me," he said he wasn't going to bother with legal action. "I'll be the bigger man," he said.

Resident Joan Simon, who has been active in Cotati politics for years, said she already has contacted a lawyer to explore "libel and other causes of action" against Barich, a longtime political adversary.

A quote Barich attributed to Simon suggests she supports higher taxes despite whatever potentially negative effects they might have on local consumers and businesses.

"I personally don't mind higher taxes," the quote says, in part. "Higher sales taxes will most likely drive some shoppers and business out of the town for good."

She called the piece "a pack of lies" and a sign of desperation by opponents of Measure G. "I don't get cowed by bullies easily," she said. "Mr. Barich can expect to see me in court."

Barich, who for years has been a lightning rod of controversy in Cotati politics, said the words attributed to the 11 people whose photos are included are "absolutely actual quotes," as relayed to him by others or that he witnessed.

Untrue, said Councilman Mark Landman, who said he also is looking into legal action against Barich.

"There's not one quote here that is not a complete fabrication," Landman said. "As a local official, I'm used to people taking shots, and that's part of the job. I'm fine with that. But this crosses a line, when you purposely falsify statements."

The flier also uses a quote it says comes from former Mayor Robert Coleman-Senghor in 2010. Coleman-Senghor died in 2011.

Measure G appears on the June 3 ballot and asks voters to extend and double a half-cent sales-tax increase that voters passed in 2010. If approved, the new one-cent tax would expire after nine years.

City leaders have said the tax hike is crucial because the state took redevelopment tax proceeds that previously stayed in the city and because budget cuts made in the past four years haven't been enough to stay ahead of spending. They say critical functions such as police service and street maintenance are in jeopardy if additional funding isn't found.

Barich said his newsletter was simply an informational piece similar to a pro-Measure G article he received in the mail from the city. He said he hasn't taken a position on the tax.

"It's protected speech, covered by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution," he said.

"In no possible way have I, through my sources or with what I have heard with my own eyes and ears, damaged anyone's reputations," he said. "I just don't believe they want the political fallout of being associated with Measure G, but they don't get free passes to spin the truth with a free press."

Thompson said the inflammatory flier distracts from the city's message that the tax is needed to continue providing critical city services.

The city's elections officer, Deputy City Clerk Tami Taylor, said the publication appears to be a piece of campaign literature, governed by the city's campaign rules. Campaign literature that costs $500 or more must disclose who produced it and how much it cost.

"On its face, it's in violation because it doesn't disclose who sent it," Taylor said.

Barich, who works in video production, has been at the center of previous controversies.

Almost immediately after taking office in December 2009, he came under fire when he used city letterhead without permission to write to President Barack Obama, criticizing the federal stimulus package. He later fought with city administrators about using the city's seal on his personal website. He also posted on the website a photograph of himself in blackface and wearing an Afro wig over a version of the seal — igniting the recall effort against him. Later, he infuriated opponents by voting against a measure that would have declared the city in fiscal emergency, effectively preventing the council from considering a sales-tax measure to raise money. The city pursued the tax successfully after he was recalled.

Three years ago, Barich was fined $7,500 by the state for violating campaign contribution laws relating to another candidate's 2006 political campaign and his own 2008 campaign for council. In a negotiated settlement, Barich agreed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission that he made a $1,000 cash contribution in 2006; state law limits cash contributions to $100.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.