Temecula city manager disputes accuracy of claim made by former mayor and council candidate

0
4442

Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

City of Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams disputed a claim made by former Temecula mayor James “Stew” Stewart, who is once again running for his council seat in District 4, posted to his public-facing Facebook account Friday, Aug. 21, regarding the events leading up to his resignation from the position and the city council back June 4. 

“The day I resigned, the FBI called the city to inform us that between 2,000-5,000 protesters from LA county were coming to Old Town Temecula the following day,” Stewart wrote. “That next day was George Floyd’s first funeral, so it as highly likely that the protest for would go sideways. The FBI was monitoring all the back channels of the bad side of the protest groups and they were very concerned. I literally had minutes to decide whether to stay and fight and deal with what could happen to Old Town, or resign quickly and hope they got what they wanted.

“The fact that my resignation went global causes me to assume they got what they wanted. I had to protect the city and citizens in that moment.”

It is the second time Stewart has shared that story with his followers. 

He first told this story June 11 on Facebook, stating:

“I called City Hall the next afternoon. The FBI had just informed the city that, according to all the internet chatter, mass amounts of protesters (2,000 to 5,000) were being mobilized to demand my resignation. I was unwilling to risk the potential damage this would cause our city. In order to stop the growing momentum of these organizers, I felt the only solution to protect the city was to resign.”

Valley News reached out to city manager Aaron Adams on the day Stewart posted that statement for comment, which he provided and later clarified.

Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams

“The estimated protester count came from organizers, not the FBI,” Adams said June 11. “Organizers said they wanted the highest attendance possible, advising they reached out to people from all over southern California and as far away as Nevada. (Riverside County Sheriff’s Department) and others also heard people were being bused in, which never actually happened.”

When reached for comment Friday, Stewart defended his recollection of what happened. 

“Aaron did not say it came from the organizers he told me he just got off the phone with the FBI and the estimate was between 2,000 and 5,000 people were coming to Temecula tomorrow,” he said. “Those were his exact words to me. Not the organizers of the protest estimate. I’m just going by what I was told.

“Could I have missed heard him? Possibly. But that’s what I heard.

“As you can imagine emotions were running high at that moment. And for the FBI to call for any reason, gave me great concern!”

The event in question was a planned protest June 5, which went off without any arrests or reports of damage caused by the protest, and Adams estimated the crowd to be between 400 and 600 people.

A post made by Temecula City Council District 4 candidate James ‘Stew’ Stewart Friday, Aug. 21. Valley News/Facebook

“Proactive work by RSO and FBI/JRIC revealed threats rose to a level of having to be taken seriously, were credible and we needed to be prepared accordingly,” Adams said. “Therefore, an incident response plan was prepared and the appropriate level of mobilization occurred.”

At the time, Adams referred further comment on how the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department handled preparation for the protest and protests leading up to June 5 to Temecula Police Captain Zack Hall, who did not comment at the time. 

When asked for comment on Stewart’s latest post Friday, Adams referred to his June 11 comments to Valley News. 

“I have no further comments that differ from what I provided below on (June 11),” Adams wrote in an email. 

Hall, who is away, offered to talk with Valley News when he returns Monday. 

Stewart resigned the night of June 4 over a controversy surrounding an email to a constituent stating “I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer” — a statement he said resulted from a typo made while using speech-to-text software.

In a statement shared on Facebook that same night, he apologized to the residents of the city for the controversy and said he was not a racist. However, he did not mention anything in the statement regarding the FBI or perceived threats to the city.

A post made by Temecula City Council District 4 candidate James ‘Stew’ Stewart Thursday, June 11. Valley News/Facebook

“I owe everyone an apology including our citizens of all backgrounds and ethnicities, City staff, and my respected colleagues on the City Council,” Stewart wrote. “You have every right to be offended. My typos and off-the-cuff response to an email on a serious topic added pain at a time where our community, and our country, is suffering. I may not be the best writer and I sometimes misspeak, but I am not racist. I regret this mistake and I own it, entirely. I am truly sorry.

“I understand that even my sincerest apologies cannot remedy this situation. Because actions speak louder than words, I will step down as your Mayor an City Council Member, effective immediately. It has been a true honor to serve this great City and its citizens. My love for Temecula and its residents is beyond expression.”

Temecula City Council, during a regular meeting June 23, decided not to appoint someone to fill Stewart’s District 4 seat and let voters decide at the Nov. 3 election.

Mayor Pro-Tem Maryann Edwards is currently handling Stewart’s duties in meetings. 

In his Friday post, Stewart went on to indicate that he has learned from his experiences since his resignation. 

“Since then, I have spoken, and more importantly, listened to many black leaders in our community,” he wrote. “My understanding of this issue in this community has really opened my eyes. One mother that I spoke with has lived here for 20 years and with tears in her eyes told me she still does not feel welcome in her own town. If I get reelected that has to change!”

Associate Editor Will Fritz contributed to this report. 

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com