Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cowards in Cooper City...

"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which enriches him not and makes me poor indeed." Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 3, Scene 3

I considered keeping my thoughts to myself, but reflecting on the commission meeting last Tuesday night and the free speech issue s that ensued therein, I thought about what the current Cooper City commission has become in destroying the rights and freedoms of Cooper City residents, and especially what has been taking place since the last election on free speech issues. You can also watch this clip of the citizen’s concerns portion of the meeting.

Recently, events in my own family life have reminded me of the essential truths that we all should live by…Peace, Love and the pursuit of Happiness being a few. Those essential truths are not diminished by the rants and tantrums of a petty tyrant. Mayor Debby Eisinger’s latest outburst and misuse of parliamentary privilege brings into a stark reality, the disconnect between her, the majority of the Cooper City Commission and the people from whom the power to govern is granted. My thoughts on the responsibility and accountability of government to the electors are well known to those who follow my blog posts. Cooper City is supposed to be a city close to the heart of democracy. Last Tuesday night, once again, the public servants of Cooper City forgot their place and turned on those whose trust they hold in the execution of their public office.

Now, the good people of Cooper City have again been completely embarrassed by their elected representatives. Our City is again in the news, much to the delight of the negative media, due to the posturing egos of our ‘illustrious leaders’. The ‘politricks’, outright misrepresentations and deceptions emanating from the Cooper City Commission dais on a regular basis, are indeed the stuff of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, only large and in real life for all to ‘read all about’. This article is just one example, and is mild compared to others (that I will not now embarrass the reader with a full accounting), and the comments are disturbing to anyone who takes pride in our municipality. As if this was not enough, now we are again embarrassed by commentary from citizens and a follow-up article from the same news medium.

Regarding the colloquy at last Tuesday evening’s commission meeting on Item 14, Mrs. Gladys Wilson’s comments were factually and linguistically correct. On May 11th, Mayor Eisinger did say that Governor Charlie Crist had signed the ‘Red-Light Camera Bill’, a full 2 days before the actual signing, an undeniable fact. Maybe the Mayor chose to mislead the commission into believing that the Bill was signed since she so desperately needed their majority support for her revenue generation scheme, but maybe the Mayor had simply confused the actions whereby the Florida Legislature had passed the Bill and it simply awaited the Governor’s signature, or possible veto. I can assume that it may have been an honest mistake, but this Mayor should know the difference between legislative passage and signatory execution, and I prefer to believe that she was so impatient to ‘get her hands on the money’ – your money – that a 48 hour discrepancy was a negligible detail, as a child pestering her parents to open a Christmas present early, knowing full well that that was against the rules. I contacted Governor Crist‘s office (850-488-5394) and verified that HB325 was actually signed on 05/13/2010 and the ceremonial signing was on 05/18/2010.

Regardless of what was said, Mrs. Wilson was not, and is not guilty of “slander” as Mayor Eisinger and a fellow commissioner have so vociferously asserted. In my humble opinion, that term is loosely used simply to intimidate constituents. The Mayor has a tendency to berate anyone who disagrees with her view or who has the chutzpah to point out her shortcomings with such words as a form of intimidation or, worse, to ‘put them in their place’. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, certain words deemed slanderous are in themselves actionable, because the natural consequence of what they impute to the party is damage, as if they import a charge that the party has been guilty of a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, or that the party is infected with a contagious distemper, or if they are prejudicial in a pecuniary sense to a person in office or to a person engaged as a livelihood in a profession or trade; but in all other cases the party who brings an action for words must show the damage he or she has suffered by the false speaking of the other party. Perhaps by reining in her emotions and paying more attention to the factual content of our collective discourse with concerned citizens, our Mayor would be better placed to serve our community and hear the criticisms of its residents in a more open, decorous and graceful frame of mind.

The common law protects every person from harm to their reputation by false and derogatory remarks about their person, known as defamation. Defamation must be a direct attack on an actual reputation, not an alleged reputation that a ‘victim’ believes they deserve. There are a number of special defenses available against defamation; the "defamatory" remark was basically accurate, and a special privilege exists for remarks made in certain venues such as in a court room or in a legislative or commission assembly or one of its committees. George Washington once said "To persevere in one's duty and be silent is the best answer to calumny." It is the duty of the Commission to hear criticism and take heart to that which is actionable.

If Ms. Wilson wants to ‘rant’, as some allude to, she is entitled to rant even if what she says is impertinent, inaccurate, or otherwise, as delineated by the Commission Rules. I did not view Ms. Wilson’s remarks as a rant or lacking in common courtesy. Every word that every person says is subject to interpretation. The Mayor should have just let Mrs. Wilson have her say, noted her comments, then allowed her to sit down and proceed on to further business. But no…the Mayor chose to take an overbearing, churlish, unprofessional, and even childish approach. Of course, Mrs. Wilson has the ability to convey her thoughts in a less truculent manner, but she is free to choose her words as she sees fit. It is not incumbent upon anyone to judge her choice of verbiage, truthfulness notwithstanding.

It is my understanding that Mrs. Wilson has been verbally, emotionally and psychologically abused by some of my fellow commission members for several years. I can attest to the fact that she is a highly educated community pillar and knows how to express herself in an appropriate manner. It appears that she has been pushed just a little too hard by our elected officials, as have many of us.

When an active concerned citizen such as Mrs. Wilson goes to the trouble of attending a commission meeting to speak the truth, is this how unprofessional, immature and inaccurate this embarrassment of a Mayor and the other commission members are meant to treat residents? Instead of being about what the resident (our employer) says or requires, the issue becomes about individual commissioner(s) and their political success or self-image.

The attack on Mrs. Wilson was, in my opinion, Elder Abuse. It was cowardly, childish, and unbecoming of a Mayor who simply cannot control her emotions, acting like an undisciplined 3-year-old child, not the responsible adult one would expect to find in her position of public trust and responsibility, with absolutely no regard to the leadership skills and common sense she was elected to bring to the commission. The Mayor’s demeanor was that she can’t handle the issue, so she’s going to angrily violate the rules and now we are all going home. Gee, that was helpful. At that point, the Mayor picked up her gavel and effectively said she doesn’t want to play anymore and she’s going home and taking her playmates with her…

In addition to her nefarious actions and Elder Abuse, there may have been possible Sunshine Law violations and Robert’s Rules violations regarding Recess, in my opinion. The Mayor’s angry outburst at Ms. Wilson was immature, stupid, and improper on a number of levels, including the fact that she tried to shut down the meeting in violation of the rules, and stormed out of the room. Her competence and fitness for office has been seriously in question in the past, like when she was caught drinking in a bar on the taxpayers' dime before commission meetings among other issues, and as far as I'm concerned it is in question again. Maybe a recall effort would help to bring our mayor’s head down from whatever cloud she inhabits! At least it wouldn’t be a frivolous attempt.

I did happen to speak to Ms. Wilson earlier today and offered my apologies on behalf of the commission. She told me that she spoke to the Boy Scouts after the meeting adjourned, who were in the audience and witnessed the Mayor’s childish outburst, and asked them; “If you lie to Mommy & Daddy, don’t you get into trouble?” they all looked at her and agreed and exclaimed; Yes!, We would have been in a lot more trouble than that!

I too have been the victim of a baseless smear campaign by Debby Eisinger and her cronies to publicly humiliate me and damage my reputation and it seems that it’s OK to do so on the dais. In fact, I was again attacked without any validity on May 11th at the commission meeting, in violation of the rules which the Mayor so strenuously ignored last Tuesday evening, when I simply conveyed the facts and data I obtained regarding red-light cameras. I submitted the data as backup material for the benefit of the commission, in opposition to this egregious money grab, rather than herald laws that were, at the time, unsigned by the Governor. My mistake; I promise to repeat it as many times as it takes to carry the message that red light cameras have little or nothing to do with traffic safety, and everything to do with padding the city budget.

I guess that the “Tasteless, Inappropriate, Malicious, Slanderous…” previous blog post about red-light cameras posted herein is mild compared to this one (See this link @ 2H:52M:20S Mayor-“I find the information posted on your blog quite tasteless, Inappropriate…” and @ 3H:17M:30S “ Slanderous, Malicious blog postings that are tasteless…”. You can hear my reply at 3H:21M:00S to :30S). You just can’t kick someone in the teeth and expect them to smile Mayor!

In this clip recorded on May11th, Commissioner De Jesus joins the fray and says “It makes good news, Enquirer type news because it’s not accurate…and I continue to try to send a message to the community, don’t believe the hype, don’t buy the twist, some people would be better DJ’s because they are spin masters than elected officials (Maybe he was talking about Mayor Eisinger?), Um, we’ve got to stop misleading the community…” As the Chair of the Broward County Ethics Commission, I wonder if the topic of misleading statements by a public official were addressed by the commission, and if not, why not? I wonder, as the Chair of the County Ethics Commission, how Commissioner De Jesus can condone this, much less his participation in unethical behavior at times, and condone the continued unethical behavior and ‘politricks’ by his beloved Mayor?

The Mayor misleading the public was exactly what happened, yet it was OK for her to mislead all of us, violate Roberts Rules and possibly our State’s Sunshine Laws; but again, I guess it’s allowed because she is the Mayor, and I guess Commissioner De Jesus condones her behavior regardless of it being disrespectful, rude and belligerent because he was the first to get up and walk out on all of us. Our city is our Mayor’s ivory tower (unless and until she builds a new city hall) and we are supposed to wait patiently for her next edict from above and worship every word. What hubris! There have even been residents who have not only been attacked by the Mayor and Commissioner De Jesus, but by the City Attorney as well, likely under their direction (You can see the Nov 3rd video-click on item 9 on the left window below the video).

When the Mayor recessed the meeting on her own, which is not allowed under Roberts Rules, the other Commissioners got up and walked off of the dais. At that point I said to Commissioner Curran “sit back down, listen to what she has to say and have some respect.” He walked out into the audience and sat down awaiting return of the Mayor. Many of you adore Commissioner Curran, and I do as well, but many of you have conveyed to me your frustration of him being lead around by a bully Mayor. All I can say is let’s keep praying for him.

Then we must address Commissioner Lisa Mallozzi who said during the recess; this is exactly how ‘it’s supposed to work’. Commissioner Mallozzi…that is exactly how it is supposed to work! It’s called ‘Political Dissent’ and is the most protected form of Free Speech that there is in America, and with that, you can’t hide behind the Boy Scouts. You were self-touted as the ‘champion’ of such free speech when Resolution 09-2-3 was enacted, but now you take a totally different view. I guess my question to ask is, ‘I wonder which way the wind was blowing last Tuesday evening.’

The commission majority then returned to the dais after a possible deliberation to vote to adjourn the meeting. After the vote and the meeting adjourned, I spoke to Commissioner De Jesus who said that we are ‘going backwards’. Maybe we are seemingly ‘going backwards’ at times Commissioner, but Mrs. Wilson still had the right to say what she wanted to say without interruption, since it was indeed factual, and not slanderous.

With all of that said, I agree that the Mayor's reaction toward 78 year old Mrs. Gladys Wilson was “absurd and unprofessional. Public comments are supposed to be an exercise in free speech, by the informed and uninformed, the polite and the rude, the calm and the hysterical, the thoughtful and the unbalanced. A mayor who believes she is immune from inaccurate insults is a fool, and one who believes she can stifle them is a tyrant. I agree, the boy scouts should be able to handle watching a control freak Mayor” as one person stated here. What else would you expect from a seasoned civic leader? Mrs. Gladys Wilson has given up a heck of alot for your rights and the betterment of our local government, and should be respected as all previous commissioners have been, without regard to her rights being violated or her opinion being discounted.

This entire issue may not be about the First Amendment…It may very well be about not listening to residents and affording them the right to their input. The Boy Scouts, invited to the commission meeting by the Mayor, saw exactly how it is supposed to work, up until the part where the Mayor started her unprofessional tirade. To cloak an obvious move to squelch speech the Mayor didn't like by invoking ‘the children’ was indeed pitiful.

Again, the government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech regardless of what our city attorney says. It’s just that simple. Speakers can be silenced if they are disruptive, and disruption has been defined to include far more than noisiness and interference, yet disruption does not include disagreements on the subject matter. Sometimes government officials need to silence disruptive citizens or prohibit endless repetition. However, other times Cooper City Commissioner’s have squelched citizen speech because they want to suppress the message. I’ve been attacked many times by my colleagues, citizens and by the Mayor, and it happens to me at almost every commission meeting, but quite frankly, I wasn’t misleading or being deceitful toward anyone.

Unfortunately, many situations have arisen in which citizens have been silenced because of the content of their speech, or because they have disagreed previously with a city elected official. This raises the specter of censorship and is highly improper. The law is clear that government officials may not silence speech because it criticizes them. They may not open a “public comment” period up to other topics and then carefully pick and choose which topics they want to hear or what dissent they want to squelch, such as has happened recently by our Mayor and Commission.

Government may not even silence someone because they consider him or her a ‘gadfly’ or a ‘troublemaker’. Laws, rules or regulations that prohibit criticism or personal attacks against government officials have also been found to be illegal. A federal district court has recently struck down a commission rule that prohibited personal attacks during public comments at meetings, as reprehensible as that practice may be.

When a government decides to offer a “public comment” period at an open meeting, it provides that citizens may fully and freely exercise their First Amendment rights. When government creates a public comment forum, they have created a public forum in which greater free speech protections apply. Again, the government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech, regardless. It’s just that simple.

It is equally clear that the commission’s concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public fundamental right to engage in robust public discourse on any issue whatsoever. There previously has been a reckless disregard of the need for civil discourse in the city commission chambers that has consisted of untrue and defamatory statements about citizens, including myself, with knowledge that said statements were false, defamatory, slanderous or with a reckless disregard for whether it was false or not, on both sides of the dais. It was quite alright for the Mayor for that kind of nonsense to happen when it was directed at me, wasn’t it? Simply put, when you hear no political discourse, you know you are living in a dictatorship. That is exactly what is happening here in our ‘special’ city…All members of the commission should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves!

The Prime Minister of Israel put it this way, “The test of a Republic is freedom to criticize”. Voltaire said “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This city commission has recently made great strides in avoiding controversy at least to a certain point, and sometimes has done so to its severe detriment. This is no way to run a city.

The Commission, more particularly the Chair, must have the backbone, courage and moral character to take a stand and do what’s right for The People of Cooper City, not for their own political self interests, image and personal agendas.

It is an affront to any civilized society that any speech whatsoever should be denied. The First Amendment guarantees the right to freely speak, but does not guarantee the speaker a public, government hosted forum. On the other hand, criticism by the electorate is needed to insure that elected officials understand what the voters and taxpayers, our employers, approve or disapprove, particularly in these trying and difficult economic times. In essence, your Cooper City Government must live up to its sacred oath of office and uphold the values embodied in the First Amendment.

I will say this in closing…my First Amendment rights start right here on this blog. If the Mayor and the others on the commission think that it is “Tasteless, Inappropriate, Slanderous and Malicious”, so be it, then maybe they should go back and re-read, and subsequently re-commit to their Oath of Office, courage and fortitude notwithstanding.

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