Ara Najarian is a very busy politician. He was ‘so busy’ that he proposed City Council and staff eliminate one City Council meeting per month, giving city officials a handful of taxpayer-paid days off. With a pretense of needing time to catch up on backed up reports and other city business, it appears that Najarian’s ‘Dark Days’ merely provided city officials (himself included) with additional time off. Enjoyed by council and staff since May 2019, when it was ‘mistakenly’ pushed through as a consent item rather than an action item, the practice failed to achieve its objective. Toward the end of 2020, Najarian expressed frustration that City Council business was not flowing efficiently. This was echoed by councilmember Ardy Kassakhian.
It appears that taking taxpayer-paid time off, instead of hiring help for staff’s production deficiencies, was probably not the smartest route to take. Yet, even through the COVID-19 pandemic, Council has held to this foolish Najarian-proposed schedule.
Of course, Mr. Najarian won’t let us forget how busy he is politicking at the county level, often reminding us of his work on LA Metro (even when it’s not relevant). And, he’s been especially busy on social media celebrating his new position as Chairman of the Metrolink Board of Directors.
Though Najarian announced his Metro promotion on Facebook and Twitter December 17, 2020, he neglected to use either platform to inform the public about COVID-19 in Glendale throughout the holiday season. 100 people died of COVID-19 in Glendale between December 20, 2020 and January 10, 2021. However, he wasn’t remiss when it came to acknowledging each and every accolade he received in response to his Facebook post with a ‘thumb up.’
So, let’s suppose our elected official really is ‘very busy.’
Oddly, Councilmember Najarian has still found time to implement a censorship campaign on the relatively small social media web site, Nextdoor.
In fact, Mr. Najarian has a nearly year-long history of attempted censorship on Nextdoor. In the first week of May, 2020 Najarian suffered heavy criticism in a Nextdoor Glendale Public Information thread for his poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis (among other things). It was viewed by many in Glendale who are on the Nextdoor site, including other councilmembers and city officials. On May 8, 2020 public comments were disabled by Glendale’s Public Information Office under the instruction of Najarian’s ally, then-City Manager, Yasmin Beers. Comments would no longer be permitted on Public Information posts. Making comments on posts by Glendale Police Department and Glendale Fire Department also became prohibited.
Najarian alluded to the incident at the May 12, 2020 City Council meeting.
He claimed “concern” for potential violations to the Brown Act, asked if Council should ‘just stay away’ from social media or delete their accounts, and requested that staff return a report in the “next week or so.” The report was not mentioned again in council sessions.
Thereafter, rather quietly, the city changed it’s official policy to completely eliminate social media comments whenever possible.
Also, of all of the social media icons on the City of Glendale’s social media page, only Nextdoor’s icon was link disabled.
My screenshot doesn’t show that, so here is the City’s social media web page source code showing the icon lacking a link.
Neighbors opposed to having their voices silenced by the city government, especially under pandemic conditions, formed a citywide group on Nextdoor in response to the censorship: Glendale City Government Watch
Councilmember Najarian joined the politically outspoken group on June 3, 2020, soon after it’s creation. And a member of his household joined shortly after.
At the September 1, 2020 Glendale Housing Authority meeting, Najarian made a little more explicit complaint about being criticized for his ‘Dark Days’ policy by the Nextdoor Glendale City Government Watch group. Though he refused to name the group, he addressed them directly over the broadcast from the dais:
““Oh boy! Are you suggesting we ‘go dark?!’ — I sorta went there with the City Council meetings when I was Mayor. Uhm, and some of the criticism I got on certain social platforms – who’ll not be named – was that we ‘re trying to stifle the public input. I don’t have an objection with your proposal. But I just want you to be ready. That I have caught and am catching a lot of heat almost every week on that certain social platform – and you know who you are – um, about going dark.”
Later, censorship attempts included reporting comments made by the group’s admin. One successful attempt in October 2020, caused a temporary removal of a majority of the group’s content, much of it highlighting topics unfavorable to Councilmember Najarian. Nextdoor later restored the content. However, the Glendale City Government Watch blog was activated to publish and preserve content where it would not be vulnerable to Ara Najarian’s censorship tactics.
Shortly after the temporary removal of the public group’s content, City Council member, Ara Najarian, signed up as a “Community reviewer” on the Nextdoor website.
Community reviewers vote on whether or not to remove content which has been reported by neighbors in nearby Glendale neighborhoods. Like Najarian, again, the same member of his household also signed up for a community reviewer position on the social media site.
Of course Councilmember Najarian is not interested in policing neighborhood conversations about coyotes, cats, or homelessness for civility. Nor is he interested in making sure the platform is free of COVID-19 misinformation, free of racism, or addressing the host of other issues that are the duty of “community reviewers.” What he is actually doing is gaming the Nextdoor moderation system so he can have content which is critical of him removed.
He has made unsuccessful attempts to report and remove content posted by the Glendale City Government Watch group admin. However, his objections have been overruled by other community reviewers on the basis that Najarian is an elected public figure, and the posts reflect personal political opinion, and not personal attacks on a private citizen or neighbor.
Others voicing their objections to Glendale City Council member Najarian’s performance have not been so lucky. On January 11, 2021 Ara Najarian used the Nextdoor ‘report a post’ function on his long-time political adversary, local community newsletter publisher, Mike Mohill.
Mr. Mohill published a post called “CALPERS’ Disability, The Abuse Of Power.” Najarian was fully capable of refuting any part of the post which he found inaccurate simply by commenting. His councilmember colleagues have done so in the same group. Instead, he chose to quietly report it behind the scenes. He then used his position as “community reviewer” to vote for the post to be removed from the Nextdoor website.
Despite claiming that the post was “Full of lies, defamation, and personal attacks,” he failed to cite any.
And despite his claim of finding the post “Not suitable for Nextdoor,” we believe his real motive was that it was not suitably convenient for Ara Najarian’s political reputation.
For as busy as he would like us to believe he is:
- So busy that overburdened Council and staff required ‘Dark Days’ to catch up on work.
- So busy that even his ‘Dark Days’ policy through most of 2019 and all of 2020 failed to help staff efficiently distribute materials and complete reports.
- So busy that his plate is filled with requested reports that are supposed to come from staff (whenever they get around to it).
- So busy as a member of the city’s highest decision making body which is supposed to work for the well-being of Glendale during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic (with Glendale among the highest LA County COVID-19 death counts).
- So busy, but rarely misses an opportunity to tell Council how busy he’s been with LA County’s Metro.
- So busy, especially now that he carries the burden of being Chair of the LA County Metrolink Board of Directors.
- So busy that he (like the rest of Council and staff) needed three weeks of R&R vacation time during two holidays that are only one week apart, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
He still apparently has enough time to chase down unfavorable public opinion of himself, and abuse social media moderating systems to prevent the publication of that material.
I hope the public, whose voices Najarian is content to silence, takes note of this behavior before they vote in the 2022 Glendale municipal election.
I also hope that Nextdoor will see this situation, and give consideration to adjusting their moderator policy so elected public city officials are unable to abuse it.
And lastly, I hope that local media will take a look at this and see it as relevant in a time when even the President of the United States has faced corrective measures by social media giants like Facebook and Twitter.
Councilmember Ara Najarian may be very busy, but I don’t think he’s been very fair. And I don’t think he’s been very honest.