New Martin BOCC rule may be violation of the First Amendment
Martin County–A new rule by the Martin County Commission might be a violation of the First Amendment. The commission revised its rules of procedure in November. Now members of the public are prohibited from addressing their comments to any one individual commissioner. Rather, comments from the public must be directed to the entire board. The ACLU is arguing that that is a violation of the First Amendment. That you can’t suppress the right of an individual to criticize another. The county says they are just trying to foster civil and orderly meetings.
Virginia P. Sherlock from LITTMAN, SHERLOCK & HEIMS, P.A. wrote the following email to the Commission:
Please schedule an agenda item for discussion during a meeting in January 2018 to consider the Chair’s proposal to prohibit residents from saying the names of any commissioners during public comment.
It is not clear whether the restraint on the First Amendment rights of residents extends to all public speech. Are we allowed to mention the County Administrator by name? What about the County Attorney? Department heads? What other words are we not allowed to utter during public comment? Will a list of unacceptable words be developed and distributed before the next meeting?
I hope the County Attorney will advise you about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the public’s rights to freedom of speech and to petition government for redress from grievances. Restrictions on First Amendment speech are limited to “time, manner and place.” While there is some authority for restricting content of speech to prohibit obscenity or speech that incites riot or threatens public safety (such as crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater). Government cannot exercise prior restraint to prevent citizens in advance from speaking about certain topics or uttering certain words or names for political purposes.
Political speech is the highest form of speech and is zealously protected from government interference.
Nonetheless, Chairman Ciampi made it clear during his comments at today’s BCC meeting that he intends to prohibit citizens from mentioning any commissioners by name for the purpose of limiting criticism of certain commissioners and praise for others. The political implications and the attempt to control political speech are undeniable.
The Chair questioned whether we want to “open the Pandora’s box” of allowing citizens to criticize specific commissioners.
Please do not be so fearful of allowing residents to mention commissioners’ names in public comment. This is exactly what the First Amendment contemplates. In any event, it is likely there will be more kudos than complaints tossed your way.
This issue has been addressed by previous commissions and County Attorneys, all of whom have come to the inescapable conclusion that government may not censor public comments by prohibiting residents from mentioning individual commissioners by name to either praise or criticize their efforts in carrying out their duties in service to the public and on the public payroll.
Denial of citizens’ ability to address these efforts during public comment unlawfully infringes on First Amendment rights that are one of the foundations of our democratic government. How are citizens to communicate with commissioners, especially those who refuse to meet with constituents, to let them know how they’re doing (apologies to former Mayor Ed Koch who would walk the streets of New York City asking passers-by, “How am I doing?”) if residents are denied the right to speak about their needs and responses (or lack of responses) from commissioners?
Many citizens object to having their public comments censored in advance by the Chairman and question what is in store in 2018 for residents whose opinions are not shared by the Commission majority.
As a citizen, I object to prior restraint on my right to address my elected representatives.
As an attorney, I object to implementation of “rules” by local government that deny the First Amendment rights of any citizen.
I encourage the public and the commission to address this matter in an agenda item after the first of the year. Please consider scheduling a workshop on freedom of speech and the duties and obligations of elected officials to listen to all citizens’ comments, whether or not you like what residents have to say.
I hope the County Attorney will advise you of your duty to uphold the rights of Martin County citizens to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to seek redress for grievances without restriction or limitation based on a political agenda.
Please enjoy the holidays and have a healthy and happy New Year which I hope will begin with a tribute to citizen participation.”
I hope so also. The Martin County BOCC seems to have forgotten who they work for. US the citizens. They seem to be under thumb of the sugar sweet and “what dirty water?” Economic Council of Martin County and the Chambers of Commerce.
If anyone of the board is so sensitive they get upset with criticism they might want to get some help with coping skills. It is imperative that our leaders have good coping skills and the grownup ability to listen.
I was hoping with Ed Ciampi things could get accomplished. I think if any commissioner does not have the patience with the public they need to think about if they are even appropriate for that position. Not a good sign for this next year.
Paul Laura, the Chair of the Florida weighed in:
You can email them:
Edward Ciampi <firstname.lastname@example.org
Harold Jenkins <email@example.com>,
Commissioner Ed Fielding <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Commissioner Sarah Heard <email@example.com>,
Doug Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Taryn Kryzda <email@example.com>