Santa Rosa neighborhood group rejects city funds for newsletter

A Santa Rosa neighborhood group has turned away taxpayer dollars and instead is paying to print its own newsletter to avoid what it considers censorship by City Hall.

The city for years paid to print the West End Neighborhood Association's four-page newsletter on the premise that it helped foster strong neighborhoods.

It costs taxpayers about $360 per year to print three editions of the West End Neighborhood News. Most of the 650 copies are delivered door-to-door by volunteers.

But a little item in the November edition of the newsletter caught the attention of city officials, who flagged it as potentially violating state election law.

The blurb reported that the City Council had approved the controversial expansion of the BoDean asphalt plant, a project many association members opposed.

The item, written by association president and expansion critic Lea Barron-Thomas, named the four council members who voted to approve the project -- then-Mayor Ernesto Olivares, John Sawyer, Scott Bartley and Jake Ours.

When Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips spotted the item before the newsletter was printed, she saw a potential problem.

State election law bars taxpayer-funded newsletters if they are "prepared or sent in cooperation, consultation, coordination, or concert with the elected officer."

There is no indication this was the case. But city officials required the council members' names be removed from the newsletter if the city were to pay to print it.

Short on time, the association paid the costs of that newsletter itself but said it would comply with the requirement in the future. But upon further consideration, the association has decided it would rather pay its own way than be barred from reporting basic facts.

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