Thursday, October 16, 2008

Speech and Responsibility - Bill Pitts Edition

I watched online the portion of last night's Council meeting concerning now-former Planning Commissioner Bill Pitts. In reviewing this morning's coverage in both the Sentinel and the Free Press, in combination with what I was able to observe, I came away with a mixed bag of feelings toward the whole affair. I'll just list them as they arrived to me.
  • To some extent, I can see the City's argument, and to some extent they are overstepping their bounds in relationship to the rights of citizens who choose to volunteer their time to participate on City Boards and Commissions.
  • I believe that Mr. Pitts has the constitutional right to express himself freely, but with that free speech comes certain responsibilities. I could express myself as a citizen while working for the City, but just as there are reasonable limits on free speech for all citizens, there are limits on what I could publicly opine about as well. I could not publicly advocate for a candidate for City elected office, for example. Maybe Mr. Pitts will be able to make a greater impact from outside than he did from inside.
  • The City is extremely sensitive (emphasis on 'extreme') toward the appearance of bias or favoritism in their operations. The City is also very careful about how it deals with employees (or volunteers) with whom they are having difficulties. It appeared that many in attendance at last night's meeting were indignant about the manner in which Mr. Pitts was being portrayed in a public forum. Knowing the City and how it operates, last night's hearing was likely the last procedural recourse they had to deal with their difficulties with Mr. Pitts.
  • What the City was trying to get across to Mr. Pitts last night was this; if you want to be able to speak your mind about an issue and represent the City in an authoritative capacity, you'll have to be elected to that position by the people. Maybe Mr. Pitts will run for Council next year. Maybe Planning Commission members should be elected by the people.
  • The City resolution that addresses conflicts of interest may be subject to additional legal scrutiny in the coming months, as may the City's actions in living up to their commitment to the residents of Mr. Pitts' neighborhood that they made in 1995.
  • Regardless of what you may think of his actions in representing the City, John Shaver is an exceedingly competent and honorable public servant, who discharges his duties in a highly efficient and professional manner.
The ACLU has yet to reply to my inquiry. I think that I may not need it. Every time I listen to John Shaver present a subject in detail, I learn something. I learned a lot last night, and while I may not like it, I do understand it.

In the meantime, I congratulate Mr. Pitts for standing his ground, even if it resulted in a Pyrrhic victory of sorts.

Off to the Avalon to catch a movie. Have a good night.

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