Smith: principled underdog or …?
Note: Although I am running a considerable risk of being forced to rename this site ‘ to ‘Councilman Smith AnticsBlog’, it is impossible for me to ignore this man’s poor behavior.
In a copyrighted news story dated Tuesday, August 6, the Oakland Press reported that Councilman Paul Smith has once again landed himself into trouble with the law enforcement community, this time for burning rubbish on his property and verbally abusing first responders sent to the scene.
In the course of researching what happened here, I interviewed City Manager Mark Vanderpool, and determined the following series of events took place:
1. Things started when an ‘open burn’ 911 call was placed by Smith’s neighbor. Vanderpool stresses that this was a routine open burn call regarding heavy smoke coming from nearby. The neighbor stated that the smoke had engulfed the neighborhood and that his wife had asthma and was being affected by it.
2. The 911 dispatcher ordered up a “typical response” by dispatching a fire truck and a police unit to the neighborhood.
3. Paul Smith met the responding units at the front of his property. He refused their request to access the rear of the property where the smoke was emanating.
4. At this point, the two responding units each called for their respective backup. The Fire Department requested the Battalion Chief, and the Police Officer requested a backup unit.
5. According to Vanderpool, the typical procedure during a call such as this is for the officers to present the person responsible for the fire with a copy of the city’s burn ordinance, warn the homeowner not to violate the ordinance again, and then to extinguish the fire. Mr. Smith refused to accept the copy of the ordinance.
6. At this point, the Police Officer realized he was dealing with an elected official, and decided to call for a supervisor to come onto the scene. When the supervisor arrived, there were three police cars on the scene.
7. The supervisor attempted to reason with Mr. Smith, however Smith continued to refuse to allow the firefighters onto the rear of his property to extinguish the fire.
8. Another police officer on routine patrol was nearby the area and decided to stop to check on the proceedings. He was not called for by his fellow officers or dispatched. This was police car number four on the scene.
9. After attempting to reason with Mr. Smith, the officers issued him a citation for violating the burn ordinance.
10. After he was issued the citation, Mr. Smith decided to allow the fire fighters to extinguish what remained of the fire, which by that point had been largely reduced to smoldering ashes.
11. Mr. Smith maintained during the course of events that the officers were attempting to trespass on his property and that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Vanderpool further stated that the typical police response for someone refusing to allow police or fire personnel to address a potential public safety hazard “could result an arrest. ” In this case the officer chose to issue a violation citation.
Mr. Vanderpool directed a request for comments to Police Chief Michael Reese. He replied with the following:
“In regards to your conversation with Geoff (Gariepy), FD was the first to arrive on the scene. When (Councilman) Smith refused to allow them on the property, they advised dispatch that the resident was being uncooperative. At that point dispatch sent a second unit to the Smith location. Once Officers arrived at the location and observed (Councilman Smith’s) behavior towards them and FD they requested a Supervisor to the scene. The third officer who arrived at the scene remained in service throughout the incident and stood by until the matter was under control.”
Similarly, Fire Chief Christopher Martin commented:
“Mr Smith was offered at least two attempts to receive the ordinance and an explanation. The Battalion Chief attempted to explain the situation and the ordinance upon his arrival. During most of the incident, Mr Smith continued to verbally bash the responders and take pictures of their actions.”
Per the Oakland Press story, Mr. Smith is maintaining that he is being singled out for enforcement of the open burning law due to his opposition to an upcoming Police and Fire millage vote this November. His claim is that “They issued me an illegal burning ticket and it probably is the only one they’ve ever issued.”
The reality is that Mr. Smith could have avoided the citation by simply accepting a printed copy of the ordinance, listening to the FD Battalion Chief’s explanation, and then promising not to violate the ordinance in the future.
But, no. For Mr. Smith, that wouldn’t have been good enough.
Mr. Smith has settled quite comfortably into his self-styled role of “principled, yet persecuted objector” on council. He has invented for himself a fictional reality that pits him as the sole underdog against The Evil Powers That Be, which include labor unions, businesses with the temerity to request tax exemptions, ‘RINO’ conservatives, taxation, the City Manager, the Mayor, firefighters, cops, and whoever else is convenient on any given day.
As a self-identified freedom fighter and underdog, Mr. Smith has apparently forgotten that he is sometimes capable of making a mistake, just like the rest of us. In order to perpetuate his own mythos, Mr. Smith has evidently decided to stop listening to reason because everyone is lying to him.
In this case, the Fire Department didn’t want to argue with Mr. Smith. They would have been perfectly happy — thrilled, in fact — to just give him a piece of paper and use a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. Had he just put his hand out and accepted what they were giving him, that would have been the end of the story. In fact, they gave him multiple opportunities to just calm down and accept the piece of paper. Instead, Mr. Smith continued to escalate the situation to the point where there were a bevy of police cruisers brought to the scene.
You see, in order to consider yourself well and truly persecuted, you apparently have to work pretty hard to provoke the people in authority into taking some sort of action. I imagine he would secretly have been delighted had they chosen to arrest him for his poor choices and indefensible behavior. As I understand it, his wife was recording video of the event on a cellphone, no doubt hoping something like that would happen. (Note to Mr. Smith: prove me wrong and release the video. I’ll publish it for you right here if you want.)
When my then three-year-old daughter used to do stuff like this, we termed her behavior “being a drama queen. ”
I think the term fits here too. Don Quixote doesn’t hold a candle to this guy.
Thank goodness the cops didn’t lock him up. He certainly deserved it, but making a martyr out of Paul Smith over a rubbish fire is the last thing we need in an election year.