By Jonathan Goetz
Photo: Ben Kalasho, August 8, 2017 (El Cajon)
August 11, 2017 (El Cajon) - Councilman Ben Kalasho threatened to file an employment discrimination complaint Tuesday as the Council discussed a resolution to limit Council members’ use of electronic devices during City Council meetings.
Supporters of the ban have indicated that the reasons are to assure that Council members are paying attention during public hearings and also to assure that no outside communication is going on via email or social media, which could violate laws prohibiting outside communication by officials during public hearings.
“This agenda item, as laughable as it is, is just geared towards me,” said Kalasho, with his laptop in front of him. He added that it would “be too burdensome for me” to transfer his notes from his laptop onto a City issued iPad with internet access disabled. “There is a discrimination suit that I think is probably an option for me as the city is my employer.”
Kalasho clarified that he was not talking about suing El Cajon, only filing a complaint, saying “It’s not a lawsuit. It’s simply a claim with the California Fair Employment Act.”
City Attorney Morgan Foley elicited laughter from the audience when he asked Kalasho, “And discrimination is because you can’t use an iPad like anybody else or is it because you’re being told you have to use this particular iPad?” and, “Do you have a printer at home?” He then told Kalasho to print his notes prior to the Council meetings.
Kalasho responded, “Now I have an added workload to do. I’m the only one that takes notes on an electronic device not just here but outside of here. So the argument would be again discriminatory as me being the only person up here that does that so it’s a non-starter for everybody else.”
Foley replied that he disagreed with Kalasho’s analysis of the law, saying, “I think you’re using a term discriminatory or discrimination between people who use electronic devices and do not use electronic devices. It’s different than what the FEH (Fair Employment and Housing) claim might be (grounds) for discrimination. There’s nothing in this policy that relates to you about your age, your gender, your sexual preference or race or ethnicity.”
Kalasho, the lone Democratic councilmember, replied that his political affiliation could be grounds for a complaint.
Mayor Bill Wells told a story of a trip to Sacramento he took in which the legislators all paid attention until it was local Senator Joel Anderson’s turn to speak. “I went to Sacramento at the request of Senator Anderson and Senator Anderson is in the minority,” he noted, adding, “Everybody was speaking and listening and being very involved until Senator Anderson got up to speak and everybody stopped listening and they started messing around with their phones and on their iPads and they were talking to each other and I thought was just incredibly disrespectful to Senator Anderson but more importantly I just thought it was incredibly disrespectful to the democratic process.”
Councilman Gary Kendrick said that it is an issue of distracted legislators. “It’s important that the public can see that we’re not being distracted by other electronic devices,” he stated.
Councilman Bob McClellan said he agreed that “out of common courtesy” to people in the audience or watching Council meetings on TV, “We need to be paying attention to what’s going on and not being distracted by devices.”
Councilman Steve Goble said the resolution was about “trust, respect and transparency,” adding, “This is public service not self-service.”
The resolution to limit the City Council use of electronic devices passed, 4 to 1, with Kalasho opposed.