CRESWELL – Internet sleuthing has led council president and acting mayor Kevin Prociw to state at Monday’s City Council meeting that a former “leader of Creswell” has penned emails to the council under a false name.
One email specifically in question is signed by “a disappointed voter” under the name of “Taylor Mason.” In the July 28 letter, the author disparages former councilor JoeRell Medina, calling him a “disgrace” among other similar descriptors.
“I was shocked, especially when we came to find out that (the email) had actually been from one of our former leaders,” councilor Alonzo Costilla said on Monday night.
Prociw declined to comment after the meeting when asked about the alleged false identity of the letter-writer. Former mayors Dave Stram and Richard Zettervall, as well as former councilor Martha McReynolds Jr., all told The Chronicle that they did not write the email in question.
“If I send an email, I always sign them,” Stram said. “I’ve talked to lots of people and encouraged them to send emails to the council over the past month about who they’d like to see as the next mayor, and I always tell them to identify themselves.”
The Chronicle on Tuesday filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the City of Creswell as it relates to these emails.
At the meeting, Prociw briefly explained the process of cross-checking social media platforms, email accounts and voter registration, as well as tracing internet protocol addresses that ultimately led him to his conclusion.
“There were patterns … and a few emails that contained information that seemed really specific for coming from the general community member,” Prociw said.
The conversation was framed by a discussion on whether or not the City is capable of verifying the identities of all people who write to council. Correspondence to council may be written through email, letter or through social media platforms. Those correspondences are packaged monthly and made publicly available on the City’s website. They do not always include verifiable information like a full name, a phone number or address, and oftentimes email addresses are redacted or not included in the packet at all.
Accompanied by an editor’s note, The Chronicle published an edited version of some of these letters, including the “Taylor Mason” letter as part of a round up of submissions to the City.
All letters sent directly to The Chronicle are confirmed and verified by name, address and phone number before publication.
Prociw initially advocated that all communications sent to council be verified through several factors, including “gut checks” at the top of the list. He also said verification could include referencing voter and utility databases as well as looking up social media profiles.
When Prociw finished, City manager Michelle Amberg said she was “pushing back pretty hard” for two reasons: resources and censorship.
She explained that the City does not have staff or the know-how to implement this process. The City received over 100 emails around the Fourth of July incidents, for instance, and it would take at least a half an hour per email to attempt to verify, she said.
She also contended that doing so could constitute censorship, because even if the words are erroneous or slanderous, “even a person who’s hiding has the right to write to (council).”
Councilors agreed. “We have to look at the totality of the comments. I think there are a lot of reasons why someone might choose to do something to obscure their identity … I want to hear (their voices), too,” Clark said.
Prociw said that his suggestions may have been “a little restrictive” and suggested that people can provide anonymous feedback on the city-owned mailbox in front of its office, in addition to the regular methods of communication.