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Smith VS. Tobia. Round Three. Ding!

This is starting to be a recurring theme. Once again Brevard County Commissioners Smith and Tobia went at it over what essentially can be called “speech” and a “disagreement on statements” that were made. In our opinion, this is one of those cases where neither man is right. Even though the positions taken by Smith and Tobia are 180 degrees apart from each other, their actions are very similar and wrong on many levels.

Oddly, this round goes back to Representative Randy Fine’s proposal and introduction of a bill that would allow money from the Tourism Tax to be used to help clean up the lagoon.

Smith attacked Fine with Smith saying Fine “is shortsighted and long-winded. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

Jim Ridenour, chairman of the advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council, labeled Fine’s bill as being “criminal.” We aren’t sure how a proposed bill can be “criminal,” but we suspect that Ridenour was upset for any number of reasons, including the idea that Fine’s Bill would take money away from a Committee that Ridenour chairs.

We think Ridenour’s comments were over the top, but he has the right to make them.

Ridenour later apologized for the comments, and that’s a decent thing to do. There’s a difference between disagreeing with the proposal and labeling it as “criminal.” Ridenour later came to that conclusion and did the morally correct thing in saying he still disagreed with Fine’s proposed bill, but the characterization that the bill was “criminal” was not right nor accurate.

However, Commissioner Tobia wasn’t pleased with Ridenour’s comments and even after Ridenour’s apology, sought to “censure” Ridenour through a resolution.

Tobia is wrong here. Tobia claims to be a conservative and as such, should work to protect the rights of free speech and especially the rights of people to exchange ideas within the marketplace of political ideas. Instead of addressing what Ridenour said, Tobia sought to penalize him for his comments. That’s simply not right. It can be argued that a “censure” of Ridenour would have had a chilling effect on other people and their speech and ideas which would not be good for anyone.

The answer to speech and ideas with which one disagrees is more speech – not penalizing the speaker for what is clearly a protected opinion.

Thankfully, the resolution failed.

At the same meeting, Smith announced that he was going to propose a “civility ordinance” at the next meeting of the County Commissioners. As of the writing of this post, the ordinance is not on the agenda, but there is still time to add it for the December 5th meeting.

According to the FloridaToday:

In his commissioner comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Smith said he has had enough of what he perceived as Tobia’s political shenanigans. So Smith plans to introduce a “civility” ordinance at the Dec. 5 County Commission meeting that he says is aimed at Tobia.

The ordinance calls for commissioners to “accord the utmost respect of each other, county staff and members of the public, and shall refrain at all times from derogatory remarks, reflections as to integrity, abusive comments, or statements as to motives and personalities.

Violators could be subject to a $250 fine on the second offense, if the sanction has the approval of four of the five commissioners. A third offense would call for a public reprimand published in the newspaper. A fourth offense would call for a petition to the governor requesting that the offending commissioner “be suspended from office for malfeasance, misfeasance or neglect of duty.” (emphasis ours)

Back the civility truck up here a moment.

Earlier we noted that in his comments directed at Randy Fine, Smith said Fine “is shortsighted and long-winded. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

Does that sound like “refrain[ing] at all times from derogatory remarks, reflections as to integrity, abusive comments, or statements as to motives and personalities?”

In addition, Smith said:

In his comments at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, Smith implied that Tobia has “a vindictive, vicious attitude that wants to discredit your name. Mr. Tobia has repeatedly conducted himself in a manner that I consider — and this is all in my opinion — to be a discredit to this commission.”

“We don’t have an ordinance to censure despicable behavior,” Smith said. “I think a censure ordinance is in order. Mr. Tobia continues to act in a way that I consider a disgrace to this commission. I’m discouraged that I have to do this. I tried not to do it for five months. But his conduct forces me to do it. And that’s unfortunate. Hopefully, Mr. Tobia will clean up his program, and he’ll stop making personal attacks.” (emphasis ours)

According to Smith, the “personal attacks” include this:

Smith cited as an example instigating the filing of a state ethics complaint against Smith for what Smith described as minor discrepancies in his required financial disclosure form. Smith also cited the questions Tobia raised about some of Smith’s mileage and other expense reports — questions Smith said were raised at a meeting “when I wasn’t even here, so i couldn’t defend myself.”

Smith is claiming Tobia’s actions in bringing forth discrepancies on Smith’s expense reports is somehow an “attack?” We wrote about the discrepancies and said at the time that Smith should just admit the mistake, pay the money back and move on.

Instead, Smith’s comments on November 21 show that his attitude is “Mommy, the mean Commissioner needs to stop telling the truth about me!”

Smith’s comments on this issue would not be acceptable under his own proposal. Commissioner, heal thyself.

If one thinks that there needs to be more “civility” on a Board or Commission, the answer is simple: act in manner in which you feel is civil. It’s that easy.

Lead by example instead of “don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

Smith’s proposal shows he is not interested in “civility” at all. He is simply interested in shutting another Commissioner down.

Smith ran on a “Tea Party” platform which called for less taxes and more protection of the rights of people. So called “civility pledges” in which people can be arrested, fined, and thrown out of their elected office for saying something that offends another have no place in general, much less in government. The proposed “civility pledge” is contrary to the platform and ideas that Smith ran upon. Smith’s proposal is no different in theory than Tobia’s censure resolution.

Both men want to punish others for speech with which they disagree and which they find “offensive.”

As we said, this is one of those issues where both people involved are wrong.

It would be nice if both men realized that, but they won’t.

Pity.



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  1. […] Yesterday we wrote that Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith was looking to introduce a “Civility Ordinance” that would mandate the behavior of Commissioners, the staff, people in the audience and those who speak in front of the Commission during Commission meetings. Smith said that he had been working with County Attorney Scott Knox on the preparation of this ordinance since June. […]

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