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‘Bullseye’ email about cannabis vote raises alarms at Sonoma City Hall

The public response to the Sonoma City Council's July 23 decision to delay a citizen-driven cannabis-dispensary initiative beyond the Nov. 6 ballot has thus far focused on whether the council is impeding the democratic process.

But a far different drama played out last week in an email exchange between the initiative's primary sponser, local cannabis advocate Jon Early, and the City of Sonoma.

On July 25, two days after the council's 3-2 vote, Early sent an email with the subject line 'A Private Message' to Councilmember David Cook, which Cook believed was incendiary enough to cause the two-term council member and former mayor to contact the city manager, the city attorney and the Sonoma Police, asking for protection.

In the email, forwarded to the Index-Tribune by Early and confirmed by the City, Early wrote, 'you have no idea how pissed off people are in this town… One thing is certain, you will all be called out loudly, publicly and mercilessly if you don't do something about the carnage that may ensue and for which the three of you are fully responsible.'

Early went on to assure Cook, 'I can comfortably forewarn you that the gloves are off. There's a bullseye on your forehead at the moment.'

Cook was taken aback, to put it mildly.

'I had never been threatened since I've been on the council until now,' said Cook, who has been on the City Council since winning a seat in 2012, and earning reelection in 2016. 'I think when a councilmember's been threatened, you have to be very careful.'

Cook was one of three councilmembers – along with Councilmember Gary Edwards and Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti – who on July 23 voted for a 30-day study of the initiative crafted by a group calling itself Sonoma Citizens for Local Access, and spearheaded by Early. Though the group gathered more than the required signatures to place it on the November ballot, the 30-day study effectively pushes the initiative off the calendar of the Nov. 6 election. For the initiative to reach the ballot now, the council would either have to call for a special election, or wait until the next general election in 2020.

Neither Agrimonti nor Edwards said they received a message from Early like the one sent to Cook.

Edwards, who has publicly stated he is not running for re-election, added, 'To me it's very disappointing that the threats were made... It's just unfortunate that these tactics are happening,' referring to both the email to Cook, and a resolution passed last week by the Sonoma County Democratic Party which blasted the council's 'effort to delay a vote' and contained a not-so-veiled threat to withhold future endorsements from the councilmembers.

On July 30, several days after she was forwarded the email by Cook, City Manager Cathy Capriola wrote to Early, saying, 'I can understand your anger and frustration regarding the Council's decision, however, as you can appreciate, in today's world such language can be construed as having violent connotations and as a threat. I trust that you did not intend to threaten David with violence. Please confirm that this is in fact correct.'

Capriola also pointed out, in reference to the subject line 'A Private Message,' that, 'Any email communication with a council member regarding city business is a public record and not a private message.'

Capriola then reminded Early that 'threats of violence against an elected official may constitute a violation of Penal Code Section 71 and/or 76, which are both criminal offenses.'

Twenty minutes later, Early wrote back to both Capriola and Cook – copying his lawyer, Erin Carlstrom – with a brief explanation.

'It was written in the heat of the moment, don't over react, please,' wrote Early. He went on to explain that 'the carnage relates to the fury that is flying around Facebook' and the term 'bullseye' has nothing to do with weapons. 'A bullseye can and is used in many harmless ways, like a logo for Target stores or as the name of a well-known barbecue sauce.'

But days later, Cook was still frustrated.

'All I did was I voted,' said Cook. 'When a council member can't vote free of heart and free of mind, there's an issue.' He said he was for the most part pro-cannabis, pointing out his swing-vote support in May of allowing three plants to be grown in residential gardens.

'I don't think marijuana's bad, it's not like I'm out to get cannabis,' Cook said about voting for the study. 'I just want to make sure that the city of Sonoma is going through the proper steps. If that takes two more years so be it.'

But, he added, 'I should not have to worry every time I load my kids in the car.' Cook and his wife have four children between them, all under 10 years of age; the youngest, twins, are a year old.

For his part, Early continued to downplay the tone of his message, denying it should be taken as a threat.

'It was a harmless comment that anybody in sports uses,' he said. 'We don't need to be dramatic here. I think there's a line of clothing called bullseye...'

On Tuesday of last week, July 31, Early – working with his attorney Carlstrom – sent a letter to Cook and Capriola, reading in part, 'I know that I have learned a great deal from this entire process, and we as a community are part of an ongoing dialogue, conducted in a spirit of cooperation. I'm sad that my efforts to advocate for my community caused you, your family, or any of your employees distress, and please know that I am very sorry.'

Carlstrom did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

Despite Early's effort to get a revote on his petition, the City Council did not agendize a reconsideration of the study for the Aug. 6 meeting.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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