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An endorsement from County Councilor Deni Taveras in Hyattsville’s mayoral race – and its deletion from a popular Hyattsville listserv afterward by a moderator – sparked a controversy Tuesday. Critics of Taveras focused on the ethics of using her official county email address to send the message. Critics of the moderator said the decision to remove the post from the forum was overzealous moderation at best, censorship at worst. In the end, both the moderator, Hyattsville activist Jim Groves, and Taveras were pleading for understanding from the public.
In an interview, Taveras thanked Groves for deleting the email and told Route 1 Reporter she did not intend to associate her county email address with the endorsement, which praised Ward Five City Councilor Joseph Solomon in his race against interim Mayor Kevin Ward and political newcomer Austin Martinez.
“I like to work with positive, constructive people who consistently deliver. Joseph Solomon does that all day, every day from where ever he is, at any time,” read the endorsement, published at 11 p.m. April 12. “Solomon always has fresh new ideas to solve complex problems. That is what HVL needs: A creative thinker and doer.”
The next morning, Groves posted that he removed the message, writing in the announcement that “she has zero say on this issue as far as this email group is concerned.”
Taveras agreed with critics that it is inappropriate to participate in campaigns on the digital equivalent of county letterhead. She chalked up the snafu to confusion related to the the migration of the listserv from the Yahoo Groups service to Groups.io service in 2019, which associated all of her various previous Yahoo Groups memberships – personal and professional – with one email address.
“I thought I would be automatically added to the listserv if I used to be logged in with my private email,” said Taveras “When I posted from my private email I immediately saw that the post was still linked to my work email so I recalled the message immediately.”
Whereas in the past, sending from a professional or personal email account was sufficient to create that separation, Groups.IO’s more-centralized structure now requires separate Groups.IO accounts for each email address or for the user to establish email aliases to display different user information under one Groups.IO user account. And if you set those up incorrectly, it can result in errors like what Taveras described.
“Chalk it up to the fact that I am a little older,” said Taveras. “I want to thank him for removing that…it is highly inappropriate to use my government email to do any campaign-related work.”
County ethics rules prohibit County Council members from using the prestige of their office for the personal gain of another and prohibits them from using county resources in personal matters.
In an email, Groves said he deleted the email with the understanding that Taveras wanted it gone, noting that less than 10 minutes after sending the message she attempted to issue a recall on it that – instead – was posted as another message on the listserv.
“She posted it, I deleted it and at the same time she sent a request to join under her personal email,” wrote Groves. “I was expecting her to write something given all the back and forth but I have not seen anything yet. I hope she takes the time to reply.”
Taveras said she intends to re-post the endorsement from a new personal Groups.IO account, but had not gotten around to it yet.
But Groves also said he deleted Taveras’ endorsement because he “felt it was inappropriate for someone in her position to post it. The fact that it came from the county email was just another factor.”
“My feeling is she doesn’t live in Hyattsville and I don’t see why she would be concerned with who the residents of Hyattsville elect,” wrote Groves. “She has to work with whomever wins and if she is showing preference to one over another, what does that say?”
Taveras’ County Council district includes all but roughy 12 blocks of Hyattsville, as well as Langley Park, Adelphi, Chillum and Mount Rainier.
But she is also a controversial figure, especially among supporters of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth – who narrowly lost a race to unseat Taveras in 2018 – and vocal elements of east Hyattsville’s predominantly white homeowner class who don’t directly benefit from Taveras’ heavy focus on the immigrant communities in her district’s unincorporated areas in Langley Park and Adelphi. Taveras is much more-popular in West Hyattsville and among the heavily Hispanic communities west of the city where Taveras’ votes blew Hollingsworth out of the water in 2018.
In the discussion that ensued on the listserv after Groves’ deletion, some questioned the logic behind refusing the city’s County Council representative space in a forum for a city almost entirely composed of her constituents.
“I would argue that Deni Taveras is the most consequential local politician in 20 years for us on the west side and for the Hispanic community,” said Hyattsville resident Alexi Boado, replying to Groves on the Listserv. “Her endorsement of candidate X is just as appropriate as your criticism of her given the importance of her role in the city. That’s politics. This is our community forum, she is a critical member of this community.”