Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ten Threatened St. Augustine Police Firings -- It is Retaliation for First Amendment and Union Protected Activity, Illegal, Unseemly and UnAmerican

Defending Public Employees' Right to Unionize

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Errantly assuming public employees have no rights, a St. Augustine Record editorial November 18 stated that St. Augustine Beach policemen – facing firing for Furst Anendment protected activity – should never have made their concerns public and have “no one to blame but themselves.”

Tell that to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered by bigots for advancing civil rights.

Tell that to Saint Thomas More, beheaded by King Henry VIII for refusing to sign an oath against his conscious and religious scruples.

The police officers' First Amendment rights are being violated. The Record should be defending them and not attacking them, blaming the victims. This same “viewspaper” prints anti-union right-wing columnists most days (including Ann Coulter, who has bragged that her late father was the most successful union-busting attorney in American history, winning a “decertification petition” at Phelps-Dodge Copper in Arizona).

For years, unionized St. Augustine Beach officers tried to negotiate a union contract. St. Augustine Beach officials balked at the proposed grievance procedure in the collective bargaining agreement. SAB insisted that officers' grievance rights stop at the Chief of Police, inflicting a “chain of command,” which despots everywhere throughout history have used to suppress dissent.

The Record ignored these facts in its reporting and editorializing.

The St. Augustine Record too often acts like a “cognitive miser,” withholding material facts from its news and opinion pages, while vastly shrinking the quantum of news that was provided to readers only a dozen years ago when it was (affectionately) called “the mullet wrapper.”

For its errant editorial, the St. Augustine Record owes an apology to the officers and people of St. Augustine Beach, whose rights are being violated by St. Augustine Beach Mayor Gary Snodgrass, Vice Mayor Richard O'Brien and Commissioner Andrea Samuels, who spouted animus toward the officers' protected activity in voting to can them. The Record avoided quoting the concerns of citizens about retaliation for free speech, omitting them from its news stories and now from its opinon column.

In contrast, after the extremely close November 6 Commission election, SAB Commissioners had a change of heart, voting to let the new police chief decide.

The fascistic police-firing “Final Solution” to a non-existent problem – First Amendment protected activity was the reflexive retaliatory notion of St. Augustine Beach Mayor Sherman Gary Snodgrass, former Excelon/Commonwealth Edison/Philadelphia Electric nuclear powerplant utility Human Resources czar. Snodgrass proposed “impact negotiations” to resolve his retaliation. What nonsense.
At the November 12, 2012 SAB Commission meeting, steam was nearly coming out of Snodgrass' ears, as the voice of public opinion is finally being heard and heeded. Even Vice Mayor Richard O'Brien campaigned on the basis that he supported the SAB Police. The notion of firing ten policemen for First Amendment protected activity is anathema and unAmerican. So did Mayor Snodgrass have a meeting with the editorial board of the St. Augustine Record, soliciting such an uninformed, unenlightened and unAmerican editorial?

Thomas Jefferson said, "I have sworn upon the Altar of Almighty God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind." 

I support the St. Augustine Beach Police. I support their right to unionize – three years without a contract is too long. I support their right to criticize. There is no requirement under our labor laws or our First Amendment to fit inside authoritarians' cabined “chain of command,” a construct ex-Chief Hedges tried to inflict of policemen concerned about his own possible lawbreaking.

The late Attorney General Robert Kennedy said, “It is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from.”

St. Augustine Beach officials must end their retaliatory threats. As we prepare to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida (2013), we do not need a national police and union tourism boycott because of SAB's anti-union animus.

Our First Amendment, in its majesty, protects the rights of St. Augustine Beach officers. It also protects the right of the Record to be wrong.

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