Plagiarism accusations during council selection

Patrick Evans
Mad River Union

TRINIDAD – Trinidad City Council elected new councilmember Susan Tissot March 19, filling a vacancy left by David Winnet, who stepped down in April.

Tissot was elected unanimously by city councilmembers Dwight Miller, Julie Fulkerson and Jim Baker.

The council received applications for the vacant position from Tissot, Doren Morgan and Kathleen Lake. Morgan received 17 letters of support, and Lake four letters, while Tissot was a new face to the council and had no letters of support from the community, according to Trinidad City Clerk Gabe Adams.

When the city council opened the meeting to public comment that evening, Trinidad-area resident Susan Rotwein dropped a bomb that left the room momentarily silent, Adams said.

Rotwein stood up to support Morgan for council, then accused Kathleen Lake of plagiarizing large parts of her letter of interest and demanded that Lake be disqualified.

“Some people were sitting around with their jaws dropped” Adams said.

Lake, a speech language-pathologist, former assistant principal at Arcata High School and former Trinidad Planning Commission member, was accused of copying lines in her letter of interest from a letter written to the Flagstaff, Ariz. City Council by Flagstaff resident Sara Herron in 2012.

Rotwein highlighted 33 sentences from Lake’s letter, including whole paragraphs which she accused Lake of copying. Lake admitted that she had copied much of her letter of interest, but said that it was typical to send form letters that are copied and pasted.

“There is no originality requirement,” Lake said.

A paragraph about homelessness in both Lake and Herron’s letters is almost identical.

Herron wrote, “We have a significant issue in our community. People are sleeping under trees or in makeshift camps on public lands every night. Law enforcement officials are forced to step up patrols in the national forest to enforce the 14-day limit on camping, which increases taxpayer’s burden while stretching emergency resources far too thin.”

Lake wrote, “We have another significant issue in our community. People are sleeping under trees or in makeshift camps on public lands every night. Law enforcement officials are forced to step-up to enforce illegal camping and other transient problems, which increases taxpayers burden while stretching emergency resources far too thin.”

Lake admitted to copying the text.

“It was a paragraph that resonated with me, so I did go ahead and use that,” Lake said.

Lake said that she felt Rotwein’s accusation was politically motivated. Rotwein and Lake stand on opposing sides of the argument over vacation rental ordinances in Trinidad, which has come to a head as the city’s one-year moratorium on vacation rental applications ends June 30.

Lake was not disqualified by the council over the accusation, Adams said, but when the council came back from a five-minute break to vote, her chance of election had evaporated.

Newly elected council member Susan Tissot said that as council member she wants to see the argument over vacation ordinances in Trinidad end in a working compromise.

“We have to come up with a way to make [the vacation rental ordinance] work for both sides,” she said.

Tissot said she was also interested in the ongoing work to restore the Tsurai Ancestral Village to the care of local tribal entities.

Tissot moved to Humboldt two years ago from Washington to join her husband, the current director of the Trinidad marine lab. Tissot taught history at Washington State University Vancouver and worked at the Humboldt Botanical Garden in 2015.

Tissot said she expects to live in Trinidad for a long time, and said joining the council would be a good way to meet the community.

“I like being involved in my own backyard,” she said.

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