Hollister’s City Hall drama reaches ‘Pantsuit Nation’

The public anger that led to the resignation of Hollister’s city manager candidate hasn’t subsided— it’s gone viral.

In his Nov. 15 resignation letter, Interim City Manager Paul Eckert said he had been the victim of a “witch-hunt” and warned that he “will likely take legal action against uninformed persons who slandered me and who are not official members of the City of Hollister.”

One of the women who had sharply criticized Eckert and city council members at two council meetings this month was undeterred. Instead of backing off after Eckert’s resignation, Cheryl Vaughn Booth doubled down.

One week after Eckert’s departure, Booth, a nurse at San Jose’s Regional Medical Center who lives in Hollister, shared her version of the events surrounding Eckert’s Hollister departure with the 3.2 million worldwide followers of a private Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation.

In its first 24 hours, the post generated 7,000 likes and more than 500 comments on the permission-only site.

“We couldn’t stop it from going to the White House or getting on the Supreme Court, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let it come into our city leadership here in Hollister,” Booth wrote in the Nov. 22 Facebook post. 

A social media firestorm had followed a Nov. 1 report by the Free Lance in sanbenito.com that Sioux City, Iowa, in 2015 settled a federal lawsuit and agreed to pay $1.3 million in damages and legal fees two years after a city employee claimed she had been unfairly demoted because of 2004 allegations of sexual harassment by Eckert. Eckert at the time was Hollister’s designated choice for new city manager.

Booth, another woman and a man urged the council at its Nov. 4 meeting to withdraw its job offer to Eckert. Before the three spoke, Eckert told the council audience he didn’t know who had filed the Sioux City lawsuit and defended his record of public service.

At the executive session before those public comments, council members had already decided to renege on an Oct. 1 job offer and instead hire Eckert on an interim 90-day appointment.

Three council members said later that second thoughts, not public pressure led them to change the job offer, then seek Eckert’s resignation less than two weeks later.

Three days after the interim city manager quit, Booth and the two individuals spoke again, chastising the council and protesting a $25,000 payoff.

In her post on the Pantsuit Nation group’s Facebook page, Vaughn said public pressure led to Eckert’s resignation.

Eckert was never charged with a crime, the 2004 harassment allegations were rejected by the city and Sioux City settled without admitting wrongdoing. 

“I have a very special interest in believing women and stopping sexual harassment,” Booth wrote in her Pantsuit Nation post.

Pantsuit Nation was a private Facebook group and Twitter hashtag used to rally Hillary Clinton supporters in the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign.The viral Facebook group grew to 3.9 million members and turned into a book, Pantsuit Nation published in 2017. At one point, it was described as the largest private Facebook group in the U.S.

“We are a bullhorn for marginalized voices that can be directed quickly and effectively in response to threats of injustice and oppression,” the organization says on its homepage,  Pantsuit Nation claims more than 60 local chapters, including several in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

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