Accusations are continuing to fly after a Riverside County court commissioner ruled in favor of a Beaumont citizens group that had faced a defamation lawsuit.
Beaumont Citizens for Responsible Growth was sued last year for statements on its Web site alleging favoritism and conflicts of interest between the city of Beaumont and Urban Logic Consultants, which has contracted extensively with the city of Beaumont over the years on planning, economic development and public works matters. Urban Logic and three of its employees brought the suit.
On Feb. 15, Riverside Court Commissioner Paulette Durand-Barkley ruled for the defendant citizens group, saying the defamation action did not reach a standard of “malice,” and ordered the plaintiffs to pay attorneys fees and court costs, according to a BCRG news release. See www.bcrg.org
BCRG President Judy Bingham said it was time for the city to terminate contracts with Urban Logic. “For too long a private company has been allowed to personally profit every time it recommends a project be approved … and for too long they have used threats and intimidation to protect this revenue stream,” said Bingham. “Trying to sue a group of concerned citizens into silence is just another example of this corruption.”
Plaintiff Ernest Egger, a longtime employee of Urban Logic, noted that the final court ruling is not yet out, and the plaintiffs are considering an appeal. In fact, Egger said, they are considering filing another suit for defamation or libel because of statements in the BCRG’s Feb. 15 news release.
Egger provides engineering services for Beaumont under a contract with Urban Logic. Several years ago, he held the title of Beaumont city planning director while he was an Urban Logic employee working to the terms of an Urban Logic contract with the city.
Beaumont City Manager Alan C. Kapanicas said he did not advise Urban Logic and its employees about the lawsuit, nor have any city funds or city attorney’s time been used on it.
In an interview with PublicCEO.com last year, Kapanicas welcomed the BCRG’s “populist involvement.” But, he countered, the Urban Logic contract has saved the city money for the years in the efficient provision of city services, not cost it money as alleged by BCRG on its Web site.
In a mid-February interview, Kapanicas reiterated his point that the city is not suffering from a widespread public perception problem over its contracting practices, suggesting BCRG has few members and little influence.
The court commissioner’s ruling is not yet posted. “We heard there was a ruling and that the Judge found the accusations of BCRG members to be false, libelous and damaging, just not clearly malicious,” Kapanicas wrote in an e-mail to PublicCEO.com.
“Our feeling is that the statements are damaging and libelous,” said Egger. “We prevailed on those points. She just stopped short of finding intention.”
Chris Mann of Mann Communications, handling public relations for BCRG, denied those characterizations.
“I was in the courtroom and heard every word the Commissioner said,” Mann wrote in an e-mail. “She said nothing at all about the BCRG accusations aside from the issue of malice. She then sustained BCRG’s motion to strike Urban Logic’s complaint.”
Beaumont City Councilwoman Nancy Gall, quoted in the BCRG release, said, “I’m happy that the Court has affirmed the rights of citizens to speak out and ask the government for a redress of grievances.”