Atwater City Council rebukes Frago

ATWATER -- The City Council reprimanded Councilman Gary Frago for sending racist e-mails in a letter on Wednesday night before more than 90 spectators in Atwater's community center.

But many, some who have called for Frago's ouster, were not satisfied at what they saw as a slap on the wrist and weak leadership from the city.

A draft of the city's letter said, among other things, "The council believes that it is inappropriate to send racially derogatory and sexually explicit e-mails and jokes to city employees."

Along with the letter, the council voted on an almost city-wide sensitivity training.

While many asked Frago to resign, not everyone there wanted him to leave office. Some said they accepted his apology and voiced their support.

But for most their message had not changed -- Frago should leave office.

Jeff Freitas of Change Merced, an activist group that helped organize anti-Frago protests with the NAACP, said that the lack of any real consequences for Frago sent the wrong message.

"It becomes very clear to people there isn't real accountability," he said.

Napoleon Washington, the president of the local NAACP chapter, who has repeatedly asked for Frago's resignation, said that the council's letter amounted to a slap on the wrist.

"The letter, what does it mean?" he asked. "What are the consequences?"

Maureen McCorry agreed with Washington. But she also had questions for the e-mail's recipients. "You get an e-mail like that over your desk, you're not going to forget it," she said.

Judy Bowling, another speaker, held no punches.

"You are an embarrassment," she told Frago. "I am so ashamed to say to anybody that I am from Atwater because of your actions."

But Frago supporters were also present.

Barbara Riis-Christensen said that Frago had apologized and it was time to move on. "Now he got the help, for god sake, stop harassing the man."

While the council voted on a draft letter of reprimand, it also voted for the whole council and city staff to participate in sensitivity classes.

Only Councilman Nelson Crabb opposed the collective training, because he said it was collective punishment when Frago was at fault not the council.

"I'm being asked to take corrective action for someone else's mistakes," he said.

Finally, since Frago recently resigned as mayor pro tem, Councilman Joe Rivero was voted into the position after being nominated by Mayor Joan Faul.

A Sun-Star story on July 17 revealed that Frago sent at least seven racist e-mails to city and county officials from October 2008 to February 2009. The e-mails denigrated President Obama, the first lady and black people in general.

A new batch of e-mails released by the city Tuesday -- some of which contained jokes alluding to the assassination of President Barack Obama and violence against people of color -- added to the already published e-mails forwarded by Frago to city staff and a county supervisor from his personal account.

While Frago has apologized, at first he said he didn't regret sending the e-mails.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached (209) 385-2484 or