By CECILIA PADILLA-BRILL
SILVER LAKE — During a tense meeting that some compared to a “public flogging,” the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council on Wednesday voted in favor of censuring a council member for posting what many viewed as racist and offensive comments on Facebook.
Updated @ 10:47 p.m: CBS2 reports that Silver Lake council member Karen Speitel has resigned over her Facebook comments.
Those in favor of censure contend that Karen Speitel, a Pilates instructor who serves on the council’s community liaison committee, violated the council’s code of conduct and posted racist remarks in an exchange with other commenters on NBC-LA’s Facebook page. Speitel’s comments on illegal immigration and people of Mexican descent were in response to a story about a tunnel that was found under the United States-Mexican border.
“I was shocked that a member of the community, a member of this board, would denigrate a race of people in this way,” said board member Seamus Garrity, who motioned for the censure. “While a person has free speech, I think that you have to call into question their judgment when they are going to be voting on things that affect the community at large, and they have a skewed opinion of a large percentage of that community. I am shocked that person is even here.”
Speitel, who attended the meeting, defended her comments. She said that she was “not a racist” and that her comments were not racist in nature, although she did conceded that she “did a terrible job of making her point.” Speitel also said that she is “exactly the type of person that you want representing you on this board.”
The council learned about Speitel’s Facebook activity after receiving several emails from the community and fellow SLNC members who complained that Speitel’s remarks were offensive, racist and violated the council’s code of conduct. The emails contained screenshots of Speitel’s comments made during exchanges with other Facebook users. Some emails requested Speitel’s removal from the SLNC.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, 15 council members voted to censure Speitel while four members abstained. The censure, which in this case serves as an expression of strong disapproval or harsh criticism, is under review by the executive committee and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. Speitel’s voting and additional SLNC privileges remain intact.
SLNC board members in favor of the censure described Speitel’s Facebook comments as “irresponsible,” “unkind” and “reprehensible” and that her views were in conflict with her role as an elected official who represents a large Latino population. Christine Kantner, SLNC’s region 5 representative, and Anne-Marie Johnson, at-large representative and co-chair of governmental affairs committee, both directly asked Speitel to resign. Speitel has said she has no intention of stepping down.
Speitel’s supporters, however, claimed that her comments were protected by her First Amendment rights, albeit egregious, and said that Wednesday night’s SLNC meeting was a “public flogging.”
“I’m also frustrated by the fact that … as a community it’s always this need, when people make mistakes, that there has to be this public flogging,” said board member Matthew Desario. “One of the things that I like in people in my close community is that they give me an opportunity to say I’m sorry, to prove myself, they don’t judge me on my one comment.”
Cecilia Padilla Brill is a communications writer and journalist. She writes news, health, education and feature stories. Cecilia is currently working on her first novel. She has lived in Echo Park since 1999
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