Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Commissioner to clarify Holocaust remark


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A commissioner who compared Badlands employees to Germans who denied the Holocaust during an Entertainment Commission meeting about racism charges against the bar's owner is expected to clarify his statement at the commission's August 16 meeting.

After the commission heard public comment regarding the matter at its August 2 meeting, Joseph Pred said, "I am struck by the number of employees coming in and denying allegations of this outrageous behavior. I can't help but be reminded of those Germans after World War II who denied Nazi wrong doing when the evidence was staring at them right in their face."

The comment offended and outraged Badlands employees, three of whom are Jewish and another who is half Jewish. On Monday, the staff sent Pred a letter requesting he publicly apologize for his comment, retract it, and recuse himself from any future meetings dealing with the issue.

"These individuals are dumbfounded at Commissioner Pred's comments using their cultural and religious tragedy as a tool to discredit them by labeling them in the category of Nazis and revisionist," states the letter. "We were told that this meeting would be public comments, not an opportunity for the commissioners to place blame against the staff of SFBadlands, to accuse us of acting in a racist fashion, and most outrageously to compare us to the world's most horrific genocide."

David Sims, a Badlands bartender for the past year, said he contacted Bob Davis, executive director of the Entertainment Commission, last week to express the staff's outrage over the comment and request an apology. While Davis said he could not apologize for Pred's remarks, he did agree to allow Badlands staff to speak at next Tuesday's commission meeting, which Sims said he expects some will do.

"The staff is quite upset about it," said Sims, who this week sent the letter outlining the employee's demands to the commission, city officials, and Mayor Gavin Newsom. "We think it is really important because you can't have open dialogue concerning this issue if you have commissioners taunting you about speaking publicly about this matter."

Pred, the emergency medical services director of Burning Man, is reportedly already on the playa preparing for this year's gathering. He did not respond to requests for comment made through the Entertainment Commission staff and in e-mails sent to his work account and through Burning Man's press office.

Commission President Jordan Shlain said he has requested Pred attend the August 16 meeting to address the issue. Even before Badlands staff sent their letter, Shlain said he spoke to Pred last Friday and Monday of this week about it. As for recusing himself from future hearings, Shlain said that is a personal decision Pred will have to decide.

"He definitely has misgivings of what he said. He did not mean to intentionally offend the Badlands staff nor denigrate the memory of World War II victims or the Jews," said Shlain, whose first meeting as president was last week. "He will be making a public statement of clarification at our next scheduled Entertainment Commission meeting. I think he wants to go on record clarifying this issue. I think he feels very bad."

Julius Turman, the lawyer for the complainants in the matter, said Pred didn't compare the staff to Germans who supported the Nazis but to Germans who said they didn't see anything going on.

"There is a big difference in those two statements. There is a big difference between being a supporter and turning your head and ignoring what is going on around you," said Turman. "It is odd given these circumstances that none of the Badlands employees can shed any light on this. When they do, their dates don't coincide with what was going on.   Ignoring what happened or giving false testimony to what was going on I find disappointing." Turman was referring to the allegations of racial discrimination against Badlands employees and patrons. Current employees who spoke at last week's commission meeting said they had not witnessed any discrimination.

Shlain said he spoke to Pred about "appropriate decorum" at meetings because he did not want to see the controversy over his statement overshadow the real issues at hand.

"I told him this is going to be an issue and you have to get out in front of it and not let it drag you down. Otherwise it will end your commission career," said Shlain. "I want to keep the focus on the primary issue here, which is determining rightly or wrongly if discrimination happened at Badlands."

Badlands staff also stated that Pred's comments have made them uncomfortable and fearful of voicing their opinions on the allegations that San Francisco Badlands owner Les Natali, as well as the bar's bartenders and doormen, discriminated against black patrons. Natali has denied the charges and his staff has also denied charges they mistreated black patrons of the bar.

"Many organizations and entities have interviewed the staff of the SFBadlands. Most of these agencies – at least in public – respected what we had to say and treated our recollections of events that happened two to five years ago on par with those of the claimants. We expected to be treated the same by Commissioner Pred. Unfortunately, Commissioner Pred found this as an opportunity to slander the SFBadlands staff and encourage us to avoid speaking in public in support of SFBadlands in the future. Such a chilling effect on the freedom of speech for the SFBadlands staff before a commission, which is given the task of investigating and hearing claims against SFBadlands, is unconscionable," stated the staff in the letter.

In addition to their concerns about Pred's statement, Badlands employees also raised complaints about the other commissioners' comments and have questioned whether the commission violated the city's sunshine ordinance governing public meetings. While the meeting agenda labeled the item as public comment, the employees argue it turned into a hearing and the commissioners' statements indicating they are ready to suspend the bar's entertainment permit were out of line.

"They labeled it as public comment but it was a hearing – bottom line. If you look at the comments made by the commissioners, they are making decisions already," said Sims. "We know your point of view already so why hold a hearing? I respect the Entertainment Commission, but we can't respect Commissioner Pred's comments and we can't respect the process, basically. His statement was so outrageous, so slanderous, so over the top he can't act as an unbiased tryer of facts in a hearing."

Shlain, a doctor who represents neighborhood groups and residents on the commission, said he intends to talk to all the commissioners about their comments made at the August 2 meeting, which he agrees should not have been said.

"I was disappointed with all that, we were supposed to listen. We were supposed to be ears, not mouths. Some people were ears and mouths," he said. "I will be having discussions with every single person on the commission before our next meeting about being ears and not reacting the way they did when we were not supposed to be weighing in with our own concerns."

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