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The Santa Rosa City Council's first opportunity to publicly discuss the Andy Lopez shooting Tuesday began with heartfelt messages of sympathy for the family and vows to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, but it veered into a tense debate over legal advice the council received to remain mum on the issue.

Mayor Scott Bartley opened the meeting with a "moment of quiet reflection on what we've experienced as a community" since the Oct. 22 shooting of the 13-year-old by a sheriff's deputy who mistook his BB gun for an assault rifle.

Then, in comments that mirrored those he gave at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier in the day, Bartley called Lopez's death a "horrible tragedy" that has sparked calls for change that have been heard by city leaders.

"This community has really come together in many different levels ... to really bring this tragedy to a place where we could start a conversation," Bartley said.

All council members reflected on the impact the shooting has had on them and the community.

Vice Mayor Robin Swinth, a mother of two young children, said her "heart goes out" to the Lopez family and that the loss of a child is "everyone's worst nightmare." She said she is most concerned about how the shooting is affecting young people in the community.

"How we handle this reflects who we are and who we aspire to be," she said.

She expressed hope that the healing process can begin, but Councilman Gary Wysocky said he's not sure that can happen yet. He participated in last Tuesday's march from Old Courthouse Square to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, and, while relieved the protest was peaceful, he was "shocked" by the level of anger in the young people who took to the streets.

"I wish we were at a place where the healing can begin, because from what I've observed in the community through the events I attended, I think we've got a ways to go," he said. "These kids feel like they so don't have a chance. It's just what I saw."

Wysocky said he "played army" as a kid and never could have imagined having "10 seconds to react" to orders from law enforcement.

He called for an "open and transparent investigation" as a way to help eliminate the "us versus them" mentality" in the community.

He said the council needs to take steps to make all of southwest Santa Rosa "one entity," a reference to the long-stalled efforts to annex county areas such Roseland into city limits.

"That would go a long way I believe ... toward making those people feel like they are part of the city," Wysocky said.

Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said that before now residents of Santa Rosa have been "watchers" of other incidents of gun violence across the nation, such as shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

"We haven't just lost Andy Lopez; we've lost the innocence of our community," she said. "On Oct. 22 we stopped being watchers and we became one family reeling from this tragedy."

But when Councilwoman Julie Combs spoke, she brought up some issues the council wasn't ready to grapple with.

She said "our hearts are broken" and expressed hope that ways can be found to help more young people in southwest Santa Rosa feel more a part of the community.

Community Hanukkah celebrations


5 p.m. Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center celebration at Oakville Grocery Store, 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg.

6:15 p.m. Congregation Shomrei Torah “Night of Lights” potluck party at the Santa Rosa synagogue, 2600 Bennett Valley Road. Bring a vegetarian or dairy dish to share. Click here for more information.


5:30 p.m. Community Hanukkah celebration at B’nai Israel Jewish Center, 740 Western Ave., and potluck dinner in Petaluma. Click here for more information.


5:30 p.m. Congregation Ner Shalom Hanukkah party and vegetarian potluck dinner, 85 La Plaza, in Cotati. Email shalom@sonic.net to RSVP. Click here for more information.

7 p.m. Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center celebration at the Sebastopol town plaza.


10:30 a.m. Hanukkah story time at Copperfield’s Books, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma.

4 p.m. Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center celebration at Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa.

4:30 p.m. Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma’s “Chanukah at the River” celebration, 100 Petaluma Blvd. N., with a 9-foot menorah lighting, food, music, a raffle and more.


5 p.m. Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center celebration at Oliver’s Market, 546 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati.


5 p.m. Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center celebration at Oliver’s Market, 560 Montecito Center, Santa Rosa.


Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

"While it's very true that this occurred in Sonoma County ... our grief doesn't know where these political boundaries are," Combs said.

Because of her belief in "transparent and open government," Combs said she wanted the council to discuss the "directive of silence" they received from the city attorney and city manager in the days after the shooting.

Combs has said she felt "muzzled" by advice from City Attorney Caroline Fowler and City Manager Kathy Millison not to discuss the shooting.

Other council members said they understood the advice to remind them not to discuss the Santa Rosa Police Department's ongoing investigation into the shooting.

During a tense series of exchanges, Bartley tried to steer the discussion away from what he called "politics" and back to the Lopez shooting.

"Out of respect for what's happened, I think this discussion is inappropriate tonight," he said.

He proposed tabling the matter for another time, but Combs and Wysocky pressed for a specific date. To comply with public noticing rules, the council agreed to continue the discussion at its next meeting on Nov. 19.

"I'm trying to end this embarrassment," an exasperated Bartley said at one point.

That vote was 5-2, with Combs and Carlstrom voting no.

The council also discussed releasing Fowler from the attorney-client privilege that bars her from discussing the legal advice she gives to the council.

She said she would be "happy" if the council waived that privilege "so that I could explain what my directive was, what it was not, and what caused it to happen, because there has been a lot of misinformation about it and a lot of false accusations."

She said she would pull together all her emails to council members on the Lopez shooting for discussion at the Nov. 19 meeting at which point they could vote whether to release the privilege. "Then we can have a full and complete discussion about what went on," Fowler said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.

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