Sunday, March 05, 2017

City of St. Augustine Beach Attacking First Amendment Rights

Our First Amendment is under attack, from Donald Trump's White House to St. Augustine Beach City Hall.

Our American Founders put our First Amendment first because democracy requires freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Attorney General Robert Kennedy said if our Bill of Rights were written in the style of St. Paul, it would have said, "but the greatest of these is speech."

"Democracy Dies in Darkness" is The Washington Post's new motto. "Secrecy is for losers," as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said. Or as legendary Judge Damon Keith, wrote for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, 303 F.3d 681 (6th Cir. 2002):
Democracies die behind closed doors.   The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people's right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately in deportation proceedings.   When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people.   Selective information is misinformation.   The Framers of the First Amendment “did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us.” Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 773, 92 S.Ct. 2576, 33 L.Ed.2d 683 (1972) (quoting Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 545, 65 S.Ct. 315, 89 L.Ed. 430 (Jackson, J., concurring)).   They protected the people against secret government.

St. Augustine Beach Mayor Richard Burtt O'Brien attacked the free speech rights of watchdog Tom Reynolds. O'Brien failed. On December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day), Circuit Court Judge Howard McGillin rejected O'Brien's nasty emotional notion that Mr. Reynolds should be saddled with a stalking injunction. Reynolds had been observing O'Brien's activities. These included allegedly destroying a dune and illegal dumping stormwater in sewers after Hurricane Matthew, in violation of state and federal laws. Sounding addled and literal-minded in the extreme, Mayor O'Brien complained that he felt "threatened' when Mr. Reynolds wrote him that he should "rot in hell" for alleged environmental crimes; Judge McGillin skeptically asked O'Brien if he thought "Mr. Reynolds was the deity?"

O'Brien claimed he "did not have his hearing aid turned on" in court on October 21, when Judge McGillin assured Mr. Reynolds he could attend meetings and participate in government at City Hall. When Mr. Reynolds arrived at City Hall to campaign for Commission candidates Maggie Kostka and Rose Bailey -- the latter running against O'Brien, O'Brien called SABPD Commander James Parker, who detained Mr. Reynolds and his young son at the police station. Parker testified he'd never heard of the First Amendment right to petition for a redress of grievances (after 33 years in law enforcement, including work at JPD and our local State's Attorney). Parker has resigned effective February 28, with no explanation forthcoming. Parker now works for coverup-prone State's Attorney Ralph Joseph Larizza.

Now longtime St. Augustine Beach City Manager Max Royle omits from draft Commission minutes any summary of what citizen public commenters say. Questions about staff incompetence, a proposed 30 year FPL franchise renewal, favoritism toward developers are not quoted in the minutes. Questions asked by citizens are never followed up and are not even being written down. It's like talking to a post -- "government frozen in the ice of its own indifference," as FDR said, quoting "the immortal Dante."

Now Royle is suggesting St. Augustine Beach Commissioners further discourage public comment. One unprecedented provision would demand citizens sign a statement agreeing to comply with public comment rules, treating their signed statement as a 'contract." SAB Commissioners previously rejected unnecessary public comment rules. Draconian new rules are the first item on the Monday, March 6th meeting agenda. They could become effective that evening. What's next? More illegal Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)? More harassment?

Enough flummery, dupery and nincompoopery.

RFK said, "it is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from."

Kudos to the Record for standing up to lies, bullying and boycott threats of a misguided speaker attacking our hometown newspaper (February 27 Castillo rally supporting President DONALD JOHN TRUMP). As the Record advised me in its November 19, 2006 editorial, "don't be hushed. Remember that it's not important to be popular; it is important to stick to your guns."

Federal Judge Murray Gurfein, a Nixon appointee, wrote in The Pentagon Papers case: "security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know."

Ask questions. Demand answers. Expect Democracy.

A St. Augustine resident since 1999, Ed Slavin (B.S.F.S, Georgetown, J.D., Memphis) has published since 2006.

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