State of Jefferson activist Freedle also seeking government funding for $6.9 million Penn Valley Cultural Center

Hard-right political activist Fran Freedle needs to figure out what she wants to do: Beat the drum for our towns to join the State of Jefferson or reach out to all of us to help fund a $6.9 million Penn Valley Cultural Center.

Freedle is treasurer of the nonprofit that wants all of us to donate to the Cultural Center. At the same time, she writes in The Union that we need to sign a petition to join the State of Jefferson.

“Nevada County citizens are circulating petitions asking that registered voters have an opportunity to vote on whether Nevada County should separate from California to form a new state,” Freedle writes. “To sign the petition stop by the (Tea Party) Liberty Center …”

Most of us don’t want to join the State of Jefferson. We would be open to donating to a Cultural Center in Penn Valley, but we are Californians.

What Fran also doesn’t understand is that people from the State of California (in our neighboring counties, including the cities of Lincoln, Roseville, Rocklin and Folsom, and in Truckee) are among the customers of the new Cultural Center.

In addition, nearly half of the costs of this project are expected to be covered from a federal loan. Yes, this project is depending on government to help make it possible

Fran’s activism is going to torpedo fundraising efforts for the new Cultural Center.

She needs to step down from the board of the Penn Valley Community Foundation for the project to succeed.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

34 thoughts on “State of Jefferson activist Freedle also seeking government funding for $6.9 million Penn Valley Cultural Center”

  1. Jeff,the maps that I have seen shows Nevada County not in the SOJ,but in northern Calif.SOJ includes parts of Oregon at the Calif border,that won’t fly with the folks in Or.Never ever going to happen,just plain dumb.

  2. I would like to see some of these nonprofit boards address the issue of political activism among their members in a “code of conduct” and whether it is incongruous with their mission statement. This is one example. It also seems incongruous to me for Eddie Garcia to be a standing member of the Nevada County Fair Foundation at the same time he actively lobbying the community, supervisors, etc., to secede from the state of California. Of course people have a “First Amendment right” but this is a judgment issue that the boards need to address if their organizations are to be taken seriously by would-be donors and others. The IRS also is very clear that the activities of certain nonprofits steer clear of political activism. Even if these are individuals, why not show some more professionalism.

    1. I think it is important to note that individuals who happen to be board members of non-profits in no way give up their rights to be involved in politics including advocacy and working directly for candidates, as long as they are not speaking on behalf of the organization whose board they serve on.

      Most nonprofit organizations do have both codes of ethics and conflict of interest policies that may limit some activities but I know of none that restrict outside legal activities.

      Finally, the IRS restrictions on ‘political activism’ are much less strict than most people think. 501(c) (3) organizations cannot support or oppose candidates, or make political contributions, but they can participate in nonpartisan political activities [hosting debates and forums, voter restriction and voter education], the can engage in issues advocacy and lobbying as long it is not a ‘substantial part’ of their activity, usually defined as about 20% of their activity, and can support or oppose specific legislative actions.

      If one wants to engage in direct electoral politics they should have a separate 501)c)(4) or political action committee.

      In my humble opinion nonprofit organizations should not restrict the legal political speech of their board members.

      1. Steve,
        I’m making a distinction between “political speech” and “political activism.” This is not nuance. A code of conduct should address this. It’s a judgment issue; not a First Amendment issue.

      2. I am sorry Jeff, I an trying to figure out how the difference between ‘political speech’ and ‘political activism’ is not a nuanced issue? or rather how you are not making it a nuanced issue? Political speech is inherently political activism the only question is one of degree. At what point does one go from speech to activism? Could you please define for me the legal difference between speech and activism?

        I honestly am not trying to be prickly here: I simply recoil at the idea of setting any sort of community standard for speech or encouraging anyone else to do so. It diminishes individual rights in my eyes, because encouraging the use of the scarlet letter is worse than the original sin.

      3. Hey could you enlighten me on your actual take on Ms. Greenhouse’s situation?

        I can not think of a more mid-20th century view of the world than the following quote:

        “”It’s been a basic tenet of journalism … that the reporter’s ideology [has] to be suppressed and submerged, so the reader has absolute confidence that what he or she is reading is not colored by previous views,” Okrent says.

        I know this issue has not really worked itself out yet but I can’t think of a more unrealistic definition of the role of journalism in the 21st century than one that asks the reader to assume the author has no opinion. Once we leapt from print to electronic and from 3 networks to 400 channels on our smart phones the old rules have become irrelevant.

      4. Legal distinction? How about a common sense one, like holding a political opinion like we all do vs. publicly advocating for people to sign a petition to secede from California.

        If you are going to sit on a board and fundraise for an apolitical project, it seems rather obvious to me that you would want to be more apolitical in your public conduct.

        Again, it’s a judgment issue, not a First Amendment issue.

        This is why boards have codes of conduct.

        This is why the Times’ Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse was chided by her editors in 1989:

  3. Jeff, advocacy for secession from California to form a new state is not incompatible with support for a local cultural center, regardless of how wrong headed you or I think the State of Jefferson movement is. And the State of Jefferson, were it ever to exist, would be just as justified in seeking, accepting, or rejecting Federal funding as any other state. Spiting up a state is not secession from the Union (think of West Virginia for a more agrreable instance). You have gone overboard in this regard. Steve Frisch is right in calling you out on your desire to suppress political speech simply because you find it disagreeable. Freedle is absolutely within her rights to participate in the Penn Valley Cultural Center effort, just as she is in pursuing State of Jefferson.

    1. David,

      It is absolutely incompatible. The $3 million USDA loan that is required to fund this project (and still needs to be secured) is for rural development in states such as California, not the State of Jefferson. What kind of message is this sending to the USDA from the PVCC treasurer?

      And the code of conduct of the PVCC board should address political activism, which is different than political speech. Further, the State of Jefferson is just like seceding from the State of California.

      Fran is the treasurer of this organization. She should not be involved in a campaign to secede from California at the same time she is the treasurer of this organization. She is putting the group’s funding at risk (from private donors and the USDA) because of selfish political motives.

      It shows poor judgment, arrogance and diminishes the group’s credibility when the treasurer is an activist for the State of Jefferson.

      A majority of the PVCC’s “customers” and would-be donors would also find her idea wrong headed, so it is “bad for business.” Why would I want to write a check for this project when the treasure is an activist for the State of Jefferson? How stable is this board going to be with political activists among its members? Why can’t its board members put their politics aside? What about the tenants? The County is going to be one of them. What does the County think? What kind of message is it sending to other groups, which the PVCC needs to secure as tenants to make the project successful?

      Would you sign up when the board treasurer is advocating for the State of Jefferson? I mean really.

      Fran should step down from the board. The project has enough hurdles as it is. This is one of the most audacious and asinine actions I have seen, even for our community.

      The PVCC board should also make a statement about this. It’s up to them and Fran to explain their policies to the community. They are seeking our financial support — and trust.

    2. Just have Fran write a check on the way out of California. Sure Dave, Californians will just love to watch you take taxpayer money with you to your new SOJ. While Fran is advocating to lterally “take” it once you’ve succeeded in leaving, What an advertisement for your ignorant movement. And it explains perfectly your mindset, “we can just take what we say is ours”. NO YOU CANT. SOJ isn’t “justified”, quite the opposite.
      Trust does not start with “once I have what I want I’m leaving!!!”

  4. I want to be clear, I am not “calling Jeff out” here. Jeff stated a position and I am discussing it because, a) it’s interesting to me, and b) I live with the question every day in my professional capacity. The difference between this site and some others in the community is that we can respectfully disagree about an issue and ask clarifying questions without getting testy or mean if people keep their heads (which admittedly does not always happen).

    I don’t think we have answered the question, “where is the line between political speech and political activism?” As a matter of fact we have not even defined what ‘political’ speech is; what I believe is ‘political’ may not be ‘political’ to someone else.
    My contention is that that ‘line’ does not in reality exist. To some any ‘political’ speech would be political activism.

    Let’s look at two examples from these pages.

    In the first we have the case of Reinette Senum, who certainly holds some controversial views, including a few I have gone head to head with her over here, but who also serves on local boards, was an elected official, and does a lot of great work in the community that helps people, highlights important issues and improves the community. I believe that Reinette would partly define herself as an activist, but that does not disqualify her from making rational decisions on a board of directors, nor is it an inherent violation of any ‘code of conduct’ I know of.

    Let’s look next at the cases of Greg Zaller and Ben Emery, who both have been active in serving the homeless population, a controversial issue in the community, but appear to have slightly different approaches to achieving success. That issue is being debated on these pages right now. Many in our community hold contrary views and see homeless services as inherently a form of ‘political activism’. Yet both Greg and Ben should be applauded for their efforts.

    I serve on 5 different boards of directors. I hold some controversial views. I have been the subject of attempts by community members to silence my voice on community issues by threats of intervention with organizations I serve on. I consider that political intimidation. I know myself, and I know I am capable of compartmentalizing my views for the purpose of making rational decisions on a board.

    In my humble opinion holding Ms. Freedle to a different standard would be inconsistent with my belief that I can hold controversial views and serve in a board capacity at the same time.

    I have been looking around and I can’t find a single example of a non profit code of conduct that limits speech outside of the organization one is a board member of or when not speaking on behalf of the organization.

    What I can find are a number of conflict of interest policies that limit placing a third party interest (either individual or organizational) above the interest of the organization one is a board member of. In such cases the interests have to be shown to be in conflict. I can also find a number of policies that state that board members can be removed if they engage in activities that damage the reputation of the organization by engaging in illegal behavior.

    I readily admit that there are some fine lines in here, but I almost automatically reject the idea that some sort of ‘community standards’ should adopted for defining what is political speech, what is political activism, and where the lines between non profit public service and political speech fall, because I frankly don’t think we are capable doing that fairly. Which is why I fall back on the rule of law, which is the process through which we answer these questions in the fairest, most impartial, most consistent way we can.

    Ms. Freedle should be free to both hold and express controversial views. I think her views on the State of Jefferson are absolutely ridiculous. But if I punish Ms. Freedle for holding ridiculous views she can punish me for my ridiculous views, and so we are bound together by our RIGHTS, which always supersede ‘community standards’.

  5. “Legal distinction? How about a common sense one, like holding a political opinion like we all do vs. publicly advocating for people to sign a petition to secede from California.”

    I am going to go even further, I don’t know what “common sense” is nor do I want any one else to define what “common sense” is for me. I also don’t know what the difference between holding an opinion and signing a petition is; if I am not free to sign a petition without risking my standing in and service to the community, then my ‘opinion’ does not have any value.

  6. Steve,
    The stakes for the PVCC are much higher than just sitting on a board and expressing a political opinion. This group is in the midst of raising $6.9 million dollars, including $3 million from the USDA, to fund a Cultural Center (with a diverse group of stakeholders), and Fran Freedle is the treasurer. It is a sensitive time.

    Yet she is out advocating for people to sign a petition for the State of Jefferson, and to use your own words is making “laughable” statements. It is related with the group’s activities (securing government funding) and is different than, say, expressing an opinion on vaccinations or homelessness.

    Of course she has a right to make laughable statements, but she also has responsibilities as a PVCC board member. It is up to the board to decide whether this is appropriate.

    And my hunch is that it will be a topic of discussion with this group, which is sensitive to reaching out to all community members, not just the like-minded ones.

  7. “It is up to the board to decide whether this is appropriate.”

    I think we wholeheartedly agree on that statement. If the board feels that Ms. Freedle’s political activities are inhibiting their efforts they could ask her to resign or remove her.

    I can tell you right now I would not want to be on a board that has to make that decision because I think the liability issues could be huge. I would be looking at my Directors and Officers insurance policy very closely. I think you can see why I find this conversation interesting, it is a non profit organizations management issue as much as a community issue, and I live that every day.

  8. In the end, it’s going to be up to Fran, not the board, to decide how to handle this issue. I think she should step down if she wants to be a political activist for the State of Jefferson, as I said at the beginning. Either way, the board collectively is going to have to figure out how it can win the public’s trust and widespread support for this project — not just from Fran’s supporters. Volunteer boards can be a double-edged sword as Fran has proven.

  9. I think you are missing part of my point on this Jeff. I simply cannot imagine myself calling for the resignation of someone serving on a board for a legal outside political activity.

  10. Steve,
    Where did I ever say that the board should call for Fran Freedle’s resignation? From the beginning, I was careful to say Fran Freedle should resign from the board if she wants to be an activist for the State of Jefferson. Of course I am aware of all the challenges that a board faces if they are the ones to take the initiative. Either way, they now have an issue to deal with because people in the community have been watching this project all along when Fran’s name appeared on the list of directors as the treasurer. It’s not like Fran Freedle is an “unknown” in our community when it comes to political activism. She has chosen that role.

    1. “She needs to step down from the board of the Penn Valley Community Foundation for the project to succeed.”

      I didn’t say that you said the board should call for Ms. Freedle’s resignation; I said that YOU were in essence calling for Ms. Freedle’s resignation, and that I could not do that for a legal outside political activity.

  11. I say Fran and the board need to make a judgement call. I don’t think it is a big deal. When on a board I will always put the organizations interests first over my personal political views. Generally I would not even consider being on a board that doesn’t fit into my political views so there really isn’t a problem.

    I say let people fight for the SOJ and eventually through evolution of gaining support the proposal will become more doable. As is, the SOJ crowd will only garnish support from Tea Party types. The fact that the SOJ would need input and approval by the State of California and US Congress makes the new state very unlikely of happening.

  12. Ben,
    Most of us would put the organization’s interests first rather than what Fran has done here. Her hypocrisy also was evident at the Kare Krisis Nursery. She was anti- govt, anti-tax, but pursued a state grant to partially fund the non-profit. As a political activist, she is unsuited for these politically nonpartisan nonprofit boards. The PVCC board would be better off without her as the treasurer.

    1. I do think it is entirely appropriate to point out the hypocrisy of simultaneously opposing the size and scope of government and its tax policies and apply for state and federal grants. That’s what we should be busting her on.

    2. Her hypocrisy is duly noted. My guess she can’t even see the hypocrisy in her actions. It sounds like these non profits are trying to do some social good and for that I give them kudos. I wonder if the question of her political views will interfere with her duties as a board member has ever come up.

      1. To be sure, I am writing what others are thinking, but I suspect it hasn’t been brought up formally. Let’s hope it will be addressed more seriously now, since this project requires bipartisan, community-wide support — not support from the like-minded.

        One other point to “duly note” is that the contractor for this project is Bruce Ivy, who has been active in the Contractors’ PAC and who endorsed Sue McGuire (the tea party candidate) when she ran against Nate Beason (who is a conservative) in 2012.

        Fran, of course, also has been active in tea-party and SOJ politics.

  13. Jeff,
    Here is why I am not quick to judgement on this, I have been on a board with a Tea Party member and they along with their spouse were awesome and absolutely rock solid. The way I do it is to try and separate the politics from the person as much as I can. There are tons of really good and decent Tea Party people out there among us. That doesn’t mean I would want to live in a government set up with their priorities. As much as I can’t stand George Rebane’s and the fab five worldview I think overall they are all probably very decent people. There a couple that I might not put into that category if their real world personality comes even close to their online persona.

    The hypocrisy of many in the modern day hard right is astonishing in many ways. They are the most authoritarian, anti liberty, anti freedom, big government, and xenophobes in our nation. They are the antithesis of everything they pretend to stand for.

  14. Ben,
    You are missing the distinction between political activism and holding a political opinion. Just as you try to separate the politics from the person as much as you can, they need to remind themselves that being a board member of a group like the PVCC carries with it certain fiduciary responsibilities and accountability — such as putting the organization ahead of their political views. Fran did not do that. It raises issues of credibility, trust and professionalism, which should be paramount during a fundraising campaign.

  15. Jeff,
    I agree for the most part with what you are saying but those things need to happen within the organization itself. Activism and opinion can be a very thin line sometimes. I withdrew from the State Senate special election because I thought there was going to be a conflict with my positions against Dan Logue who was also running in that election. The conflict was HH had ongoing business with Assemblyman Logue’s office. I didn’t want to take any risk of hurting HH to run in a long shot campaign. Nobody at HH mentioned anything to me but I didn’t think that chance was worth taking. That’s just me and Dan Logue assured me later it would have put no risk to HH.

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