Politics & Government

Morro Bay councilwoman says she’s the target of ‘sexist’ harassment. Police agree

Morro Bay City Council members speak out against aggressive and hateful emails from local resident

Morro Bay City Council members speak out against aggressive and hateful emails from local resident. Some of the emails attacks have been gender-based.
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Morro Bay City Council members speak out against aggressive and hateful emails from local resident. Some of the emails attacks have been gender-based.

All five Morro Bay City Council members, including one active in the local Women’s March chapter, spoke out at a meeting Wednesday night against a local man who allegedly sent harassing and annoying emails, including comments of a sexual and gender-based nature called “misogynistic assaults.”

Council member Dawn Addis read a public statement aloud at the start of the meeting, saying she didn’t want to stay silent about offensive and harmful attacks, which included multiple insulting emails that made references to female anatomy, suggested Addis get a job as a pole dancer and included an image of a Nazi flag, implying the council member was a Nazi.

Morro Bay police Chief Joseph “Jody” Cox has identified the man as 65-year-old Morro Bay resident Mark Charles Hanson.

“Annoying/harassing communications have been received by all members of council (from Hanson),” Cox said in a text to The Tribune.

Cox said police have compiled a report and recommended charges to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office that Hanson made harassing and annoying communications, a misdemeanor crime under the California penal code. The case currently is under review by the DA’s Office, Cox told The Tribune.

“When women and others take the chance to share our voices and leadership in public ways, we should be able to do without vicious attacks,” Addis said at the council meeting. “... When women and other victims speak truth, we amplify our power. Silence and fear do not help us and do not help those who will face abuse after us.”

Addis said her reason for addressing “sexist criticism” publicly is to “daylight my real experience as a woman in local office in 2019.”

Hanson told The Tribune in a phone conversation that he sent the emails to express the “disdain” that he and others have for the City Council members, saying he doesn’t believe they’re listening to the people of Morro Bay on plans for a new wastewater treatment plant at Highway 1 and South Bay Boulevard.

“Trying to be civil and negotiate with them doesn’t work,” Hanson said. “This is the way we see them. ... This is to get them to someday wake up.”

Hanson said he stopped his emails to the council after a police sergeant spoke with him about it. But he said he’d continue commenting on social media.

“I spoke to the sergeant, who said it wasn’t clear (whether a law was being broken),” Hanson said. “I think I have the right to voice my opinion so they know our feelings.”

Addis also has been active in the Women’s March movement, an organization that previously received hateful attacks by a San Luis Obispo man named Daniel Phares, who was convicted in court of a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat. He wrote, “I will kill every one of you and make you like it,” on the Facebook page of an August 2017 vigil to honor people affected by the violent protests last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to court documents.

Womens Rally19 LEDE
Women’s March San Luis Obispo held a “Hear Our Vote: Voices of Resistance Rally” at Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, about one year after the inaugural Women’s March drew thousands of people to the streets. Laura Dickinson The Tribune

Hanson allegedly sent emails to Addis directly that included calling her “one of the most vile, despicable, hypocritical (expletive referring to female anatomy) I have ever had the displeasure of seeing,” (accompanied with a Nazi flag), telling her she “doesn’t have the ovaries to respond to me directly” after communicating the messages with a fellow council member and threatening to continue the attacks if she didn’t change her position on a city policy. The note said calling authorities about the emails was “weak and childish.”

Addis said she researched the man’s Facebook comments and learned he had posted about her on the social media site as well, where he wrote: “She appears to be an attractive woman. Maybe can can get a job as a pole dancer.”

“I also learned that this person has researched my background,” Addis said in her statement. “I believe he knows where I live.”

Mayor John Headding said his experience wasn’t gender-based, but he encountered threatening comments that he believes are unacceptable public discourse.

“I have experienced in my mind the crossing over between passion to aggression and aggressive behavior, and what I consider to be hate language,” Headding said.

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Dawn Addis, Morro Bay City Council member. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Headding added he received five emails of a similar nasty nature from the man

“They are in my opinion, not only vulgar and full of hate and vehemence, but misrepresent what this community is all about, and I have zero tolerance for this type of behavior,” Headding said.

Council member Marlys McPherson said she experienced many of the comments Addis has, calling them “vile, evil statements.”

“Other council members have received the same types of emails from this individual,” McPherson. “... I felt the statements bordered on libel — many untrue, vile, evil statements that no one should have to read or tolerate. ... We are taking action (with police) to get this to stop.”

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John Headding, Morro Bay mayor. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Addis said she felt compelled to speak out, adding that silence would only allow the attacks to worsen and cause harm, noting women have faced hurtful situations in the past to the detriment of society.

“I’m not naive or a stranger to trolls,” Addis said. “The #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements are my lived experiences. During my campaign, I faced sexist criticism and didn’t let it stop me. Still, I was shocked at the gender-based aggression directed at me.”

Addis said gender-based harassment is too often the cause of women being silenced, citing statistics that show that online abuse of women is often “misogynistic or sexist in nature.”

“According to the American Association of University Women, even small acts of sexism can ‘make us doubt ourselves, whether we’re second-guessing a great idea, feeling self-conscious about our bodies or receiving less pay or less respect,’” Addis said.

Council members Red Davis and Jeff Heller also spoke out Wednesday against the attacks, unifying the council’s position on the issue.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.