Grass Valley commission member reported for vandalism, Confederate flags | TheUnion.com
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Grass Valley commission member reported for vandalism, Confederate flags

A member of the Grass Valley Historical Commission came under fire on social media over the Fourth of July weekend after he placed a series of small Confederate flags on a strip of land in front of his Mill Street home.

Jedidiah Watson could face a citation — not for the flags, which are protected under his free speech rights — but for vandalism, after he was later reported for spray painting a retaining wall with the words “Go home flat lander.” Watson acknowledged having placed the flags and the spray paint, which has since been covered up, but said it was on private property. He referred any other request for comment to the city attorney, stating he signed an agreement as a commission member not to make any public statements.

City Attorney Michael Colantuono, however, said the city code of conduct signed by Watson is intended to avoid confusing the public as to who is speaking for the city, and does not preclude Watson from speaking to the media on private matters.

Watson — whose term on the commission ends this month, Colantuono said — posted Friday on a local Facebook group that he had posted the flags and they had been stolen within the hour. That post was later removed.

Friday night, Watson was spotted by a neighbor who said she saw him spray painting graffiti on the retaining wall, with another Confederate flag planted next to the wall.

“I was walking home down Mill Street from Safeway,” Kristen Auf Der Heide said. “I saw the guy spray painting the rock wall and set my bags on the ground and was searching for my phone.”

When she asked Watson what he was writing, he responded, “Go home flatlanders,” Auf Der Heide said.

“I took a picture of him doing it,” she said. “As he started to walk away when he was done, I followed on the sidewalk across the street to see which way he was headed, so I could call the police. He noticed that and yelled out (his street address.) ‘I own this property and can do it if I want!’”

Grass Valley Police Sgt. Clint Bates confirmed that an officer was dispatched Friday night for a report that someone had spray painted derogatory statements on a wall, and said the Confederate flag had been removed by the time the officer arrived. The incident remains under investigation and no citation had been made as of Wednesday.

The historical commission is a small volunteer group with its members typically selected for a four-year term after making an application. The commission identifies and verifies historical resources within the city and encourages their preservation, according to the city website. It also designates historical properties within the city limits and honors the property owners who have maintained or restored these properties.

The city of Grass Valley does have a code of conduct for council and commission members. Commission members are to “serve as a model of leadership and civility to the community,” and “inspire public confidence in City of Grass Valley government,” the code states.

Grass Valley Mayor Lisa Swarthout couldn’t be reached for comment as to whether Watson’s behavior violated those standards. Colantuono said the code is intended to promote civil discourse within the city, but called it a “social contract” that is not enforceable.

Colantuono did note that Watson’s term expires this month and his reappointment will be up to the City Council.

The commission hasn’t met in several months, and no new commissioners have been appointed.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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