Apology issued for offensive e-mails

Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago has apologized after forwarding e-mails to city officials and others containing jokes aimed at President Barack Obama, the first lady and black people.

"I made a mistake," he said of the seven e-mails, circulated from October to February. "It was a mistake I shouldn't have made and I apologize for it. I wasn't being racist, I was just passing on e-mails."

Some residents have called for his resignation, and several City Council members have distanced themselves from him.

After the Sun-Star published e-mails that Frago forwarded to local officials from his private e-mail account, the story made its way to a national audience. It was then that Frago realized he had offended people, he said.

"I didn't think it would go nationwide, to tell you the truth. If it would have stayed local, we would have been able to handle it a lot easier," he said.

Frago said he will not resign.

City refuses to release more

The city still refuses to provide additional e-mails sent by Frago, which First Amendment advocates say the city has little legal standing to do.

The city said those e-mails are not public documents because they do not pertain to city business. City attorney Dennis Myers said the legal opinion stands.

But Terry Francke of California Aware, an open government group, said the city's legal opinions are dubious when it comes to e-mails sent on or through a city server.

"I don't think there's any controversy anywhere as to whether e-mails sent by public officials using an official e-mail account or server are anything but public records," Francke said. "If the city doesn't have something it really needs to hide, it should not create that impression by making a mystery out of commonplace."

The City Council's reaction to the e-mails was measured but firm.

Mayor Joan Faul condemned Frago's actions. In a statement, she said: "As mayor of the City of Atwater, I wish to apologize on behalf of the City. I have no authority to instruct Mr. Frago on how to rectify this situation, and furthermore have no authority to take any action in my official capacity as your Mayor to affect his current position as a City councilman."

She did not call for Frago's resignation.

Napoleon Washington, president of Merced County's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he condemns Frago's actions but that the organization has not taken an official stance on whether Frago should resign.