Last week, we sent our mouthpiece to the Cocoa Beach Commission meeting to comment and make a presentation on the speech issue that had occurred in several meetings.
Several things happened, none of which were very good.
First, our representative had been told previously that his time to talk at the podium would begin when he began to speak. As he had to bring up the PowerPoint presentation onto the screen so everyone could see it, it does not seem right to penalize a speaker for having to open a file and have it appear on the main screen. Yet that is what happened. His time began when he got up to the microphone, not when he started talking.
That came into play as we as a group had practiced what he was going to say. We timed it. We had his presentation down consistently to be between 2:50 and 2:54. Without fail, that is what he was running. When the buzzer went off way before the end of the presentation, he was perplexed and thought he had blown it. It was not until someone from the audience said the Commission had started the timer early that he realized he had not messed up the timing at all.
For every speaker following him, the timer started AFTER the speaker began speaking.
We thought you’d like to see what the presentation was so here it is. We have added the PowerPoint slides in the correct positions. What we do and what he did was read the section and then click to change the slide without looking. We can’t reproduce that on a blog, but you can see what was said and the slides.
You may be wondering who “Ring Lardner” was and why the reference to him.
Lardner was a early 20th century writer of sports columns, short stories, and satire. He writings often included statements that were contradictory. Hence, the quote “‘Shut up,’ he explained,” is a good commentary on what happened in Cocoa Beach were people were told to “shut up” and then the Commission tried to explain their actions away. Lardner was also the favorite author of JD Salinger, who wrote “Catcher in Rye.”
That first slide is there as a placeholder for what is to come. We didn’t want to use plain text or anything, so we went with an image and a quote that we hoped would pique the curiosity of those in attendance.
We expected that the Commission would take this issue up. There is no way that their rule can stand as its existence has an effect on people who do not know whether they will be expelled from a meeting for making a comment that the chairperson doesn’t like or thinks is “impolite.” The fact of the matter is the law protects disparaging comments and the Commission should remove the rule. It’s that simple.
Instead, what happened was that Commissioner Williams proposed that the City Clerk look into what other cities are doing and to come up with what are “best practices” that can be incorporated for next year’s rules.
That means 1) the Commission is willing to live with illegal and unConstitutional rules for a year. There is something wrong with that. Secondly, it assumes that the other cities are in compliance with the laws and Constitutions as well. For example, if Cape Canaveral wanted to look at polices and procedures for meetings, they could see Cocoa Beach’s unConstitutional rules and think, “that sounds great. Let’s do that.”
The problem is not what is a “good practice,” but what is legal. That’s the issue. What is legal stands on its own no matter what other cities are doing.
Mayor Malik then said that they weren’t going to stop anyone from speaking and unless you said something obscene or pornographic, you can say what you want.
If that’s the case, then there is no reason for the rule. Get rid of it.
Because the rule is still there, the City Commission is not committed to doing what they say they will do.
It boils down to this: if the rule is unConstitutional (and it is,) you aren’t going to enforce it (and you say you won’t) but the rule still has an effect on people’s right to speak (and it does) then why are you still supporting the rule being on the books?
There is NO reason for that. None . Zero. Nada. Zip.
Get rid of it because the rule’s existence has effects beyond the Commission.
A few days ago, at the Planning Board, the rule on speech was brought up. The Chair said they had the right under Florida law to not allow remarks they deemed disparaging.
First, the Florida law doesn’t say that at all. Secondly, if one were to believe that, one has to accept that the Chair of board in Cocoa Beach has the authority to overrule the Constitution and the Supreme Court.
Call us crazy, but we are fairly sure that is not the case.
If it sounds like we are being a tad cryptic here on the Board, it is because we are. We are putting together another post on the lunacy that came out of that meeting and why it is not only wrong, but unConstititonal and against Florida law.
Finally, we want to say that after the Commission meeting, our mouthpiece was approached by City Attorney Skip Fowler who congratulated him on the presentation, and then said, “you made some really good points that seem to be correct.”
If they “seem to be correct,” then why is the rule still on the books?
Why is the Commission not saying “figure this out now?”
This is an easy issue. It is five minutes of looking around in a legal library, online or even a call to a lawyer.
Some might say that the City has more pressing issues than this.
To that, we look to ol’ Tommy himself – Thomas Jefferson – who wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — (emphasis ours)
In the United States, the right of free speech – especially the right of speech to the government – is paramount. That’s why it is number one on the hit parade of the Bill of Rights.
Therefore, the government of the City of Cocoa Beach’s responsibility is to protect the rights of its citizens. Those rights include the right of speech without the Commission or a Board telling you what you can or cannot say and punishing you if they don’t agree with you.
We can think of no higher responsibility than to protect the rights of people.
That the City Commission thinks so little of this issue as to put it off for a year is ridiculous.
Shame on everyone who sits on that dais for not quickly addressing this.