AURORA | Shortly after receiving a verbal insult from an unknown member of the public on her way into an Aurora City Council policy committee meeting Thursday, Councilwoman Nicole Johnston read a lengthy public statement denouncing comments Councilman Dave Gruber made at Monday’s regular council meeting.
Johnston read a more than six-minute-long statement to attendees of the regular public safety meeting July 18, saying Gruber’s recent comments offended her and other council members, and threatened their safety.
“We no longer feel safe with the hate that (Gruber) has intentionally incited,” Johnston said. “I am thankful my children are visiting their dad right now because for them to be in the middle of this would be almost unbearable.”
Johnston was referring to statements Gruber made during a public comment portion of the regular city council meeting July 15. Gruber claimed Johnston, along with Councilwomen Allison Hiltz and Crystal Murillo, helped organize a recent protest at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in north Aurora. Gruber then suggested the women insulted the nation’s veterans by doing so.
“Not only did you hurt our citizens, you also hurt our veterans in our city, especially our citizens in the fire and police departments,” Gruber said from the public lectern.
Gruber claimed the women condoned a flurry of suspected vandalism at the event, including desecration of a U.S. flag.
While Johnston, Hiltz and Murillo attended the rally at the Aurora facility managed by the GEO Group on July 12, all three women have condemned the removal and replacement of several flags displayed in front of the building.
Aurora police are still working to identify a group of people suspected of tampering with the flags.
In her statement, Johnston thanked the city’s cops and firefighters — top brass of the city’s police and fire departments attend most public safety meetings — and outlined her lengthy affiliation with the military, saying she was married to a U.S. Marine for 15 years.
She also scolded Gruber, who is a former colonel in the U.S. Air Force, for tying her and other council members to the protest.
“Council Member Gruber told the crowd that the protest was organized and led by us three council members,” Johnston said. “He said that the protesters raised a desecrated flag over us. He said we gave a speech under the desecrated flag … all of this was not true. It was intended to incite hate toward us from our military and veteran community.”
Gruber’s comments also drew fire from the state’s Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll, who lives in Aurora.
“I am appalled by Aurora City Councilman Dave Gruber’s factually inaccurate anti-immigrant tirade and character assassination against …,” Carroll said in a Facebook post Thursday. “This behavior has been modeled by the (President Donald Trump) and has contaminated our own Aurora City Council.”
She called for Gruber and Mayor Bob LeGare to apologize.
Johnston, who is not member of the Public Safety committee, said after the meeting she chose to speak Thursday in an effort to stem misinformation and quickly rectify the public record. She was barred from rebutting until the end of the July 15 council meeting, which concluded at approximately 2 a.m.
“He could have just called me,” she said. “But to have this grand, theatrical performance made it a lot worse.”
Gruber, who was sitting across a table from Johnston during the committee meeting, did not respond to Johnston’s comments at the end of the meeting.
Johnston said the dynamic between some council members has soured in recent days.
“There is now a lot of toxicity among us,” she said. “I hope we can move forward, but I really feel that (Gruber) should apologize because that was wrong information.”
Gruber did not immediately return a request for comment after the meeting.
Johnston said she’s received a wave of slanderous comments both in person and online in recent days.
On her way into the policy meeting Thursday, Johnston said an unknown man told her, “You’re not a professional, bitch.” She then reported that comment to Aurora police and received a police escort to her car after the meeting.
On Friday morning, Gruber issued a statement via Facebook condemning violence.
“I do not condone threats or any act of violence – especially against council, GEO employees or the Chamber,” Gruber wrote. “Our great city thrives by talking through issues – not violence.”
Hiltz said the possibility of censuring Gruber is being explored.
“Unfortunately, although some colleagues have expressed their disappointment privately, they are not currently willing to go on the record,” she said, referencing the requirement of six votes to reprimand Gruber for his comments.
— Quincy Snowdon and Kara Mason, staff writers