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Compelled Speech Is Not Free Speech.

We have written about the little town of Satellite Beach, FL far too often for our liking. Yet it is our belief that politics in small towns is a microcosm of politics at the state and national level. It is also our belief that when people in the public eye lie and distort the truth, they should be held accountable and open for public ridicule.

Recently, Satellite Beach City Manager Mike Crotty announced he was stepping down from his position. We were struck by the timing of his announcement as just several months ago, there was a City Council meeting where the City Council looked at his continued employment. Many citizens came to the meeting and spoke up for Crotty and he retained his job. Crotty’s employment contract was also up for renewal this year and at the time, nothing was said about his retiring. In fact, Crotty spoke openly about looking forward to working with the City Council as he had done for decades with other Councils.

Suddenly now, Crotty decides to “step down” or “retire.”

We wondered what could have caused the change of heart. It was clear to many citizens that newly elected members of the City Council had an open hostility toward Crotty. The only thing we can think of that changed was a change in the members of the City Council itself. Recently Councilman Bill Higginson passed away while in office. The Council, instead of waiting and taking applications or even looking at other options, appointed resident Lloyd French to fill the empty council position. While the Council had the legal right to make such an appointment, the speed in which the “political ally” of Council members was made was at the very least, troubling. French had “been on the radar” after a rather public fight between his appointment to a committee and the local Fraternal Order of Police. We covered the controversy both here on Raised on Hoecakes and on the Steve Bussey Radio Experience.

After our initial posts and comments on the radio, we were contacted by someone with intimate knowledge of the situation, and who was unbiased in his outlook. That source told us that French had misrepresented to the Council and to the citizens of Satellite Beach the reasons for his “losing” his job. The actual reasons don’t matter to this discussion. What matters is that French was not open and honest with the people of Satellite Beach, and yet he was appointed to be on the City Council.

If you are wondering why we are focusing on French, it is because he took the time to write a letter to the Florida Today newspaper in which he made several comments that are, at best, disingenuous. He also lays out what may be the actual reason for Crotty leaving his position as City Manager.

This is what French wrote:

The formal announcement by Satellite Beach City Manager Michael Crotty regarding his resignation and retirement is a natural progression of the city’s transformation.

During the years of plenty, Satellite Beach spent plenty. Morphing personnel policies resulted in burgeoned costs. The city is now at a point where — barring additional tax increases — these costs are untenable.

Decisive action is needed, and hard decisions must be made and in place for the fiscal-year 2013 budget cycle. The journey requires leadership, vision, stamina and direction.

The leadership component is changing, but it’s not going away. Instead, Satellite Beach seeks to bring in fresh expertise — a new command presence — to shine light on the way ahead. Satellite Beach needs corporate sense with no cronyism; financial vision without exclusions or extravagance.

FLORIDA TODAY regularly runs vitriolic letters about the sad state of affairs in Satellite Beach. Writers cite nothing concrete, can point to no specific cause/effect relationships, yet they forecast doom and gloom for the city when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s now a Transparency Page on the city website, the Citizens Advisory Panel for Efficient Government produced viable observations for efficiencies, the CRA issue is resolved, and we presently forecast a 0.2 percent decrease in ad valorem millage rates for 2013. These were new city council actions — new leadership initiatives — and they embrace the concept that systems of government by the people, for the people, need new people to make the system work.

Mr. Crotty’s departure is not a termination; it is a retirement (with pension). His resignation is a component of city transformation, not a signal of doom.

Since after the November 2011 elections, a group of residents have waged a campaign of unwarranted attacks. The nature of these assaults ranged from a fact-baseless website diatribe to the adolescent and nefarious mailing of magazines to council members, who were subsequently billed by the magazine publisher. The city manager did not unremittingly denounce these tactics, and some of the people responsible are his friends. Perhaps people are afraid for their services — to which they are indeed entitled — yet seven months after the election, every service remains at 2011 levels.

Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election is a sign of the times. It shows the level and intensity of public service entitlements are out of control. It shows the people who pay the bills want what’s fair and reasonable for their service providers and their pocketbooks.

They want the police when they call — not six police officers maybe — but the right number to do the job; they want EMTs and firefighters to come when they call — not the whole station — just the right number for the job. That concept is called level of service; the number of personnel on staff/utilized at any given time to accomplish is the intensity component.

We need to control intensity, or we lose control of our spending. New leadership is one more step in a positive direction. (emphasis ours)

The first sentence that caught our eye was this:

Satellite Beach needs corporate sense with no cronyism; financial vision without exclusions or extravagance.

The fact that this is being written by a “political ally” of other members of the City Council leads us to believe that French is unclear as to what “cronyism” is. Given his past and alleged false statements, we believe that French’s appointment to the City Council is the epitome of “cronyism.”

Furthermore, according to the Florida Today, in filling Crotty’s now vacant position of City Manager…..,

[Councilwoman Sheryl Denan] unsuccessfully lobbied to appoint Richard Sala as interim city manager, earning $165 per hour three days per week, effective immediately.

Sala is a principal with Calvin, Giordano & Associates, the Fort Lauderdale-based consulting firm that is guiding Satellite Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency in absence of a director. He formerly served as city manager in North Lauderdale and executive director of Hollywood’s CRA.

Sala’s company was awarded a no bid contract to help the city with the CRA. The award was championed by Denan who claimed the city would be “hard pressed to find a better company than Calvin, Giordano & Associates.”

The city was not “hard pressed” at all. In fact, it was never “pressed.” Instead of soliciting competitive bids and without public discussion on awarding of the contract, Calvin, Giordano & Associates was awarded the contract to handle the CRA for the city. At the time of the award, citizens were stunned at how a community hurting for money could award a contract valued at approximately $100,000 without bids.

In May of 2012, the City Council held a meeting at which mileage and costs associated with city vehicles being taken home by employees living outside of the city was discussed. The practice was frowned upon and discouraged.

Yet Denan actively promoted a person for the position of City Manager who resides in Fort Lauderdale – almost 180 miles and three hours of driving time away. Was Denan proposing to either pay Richard Sala for the driving time or compensate him for the mileage?

The fact that Denan pushed for a person to take over the position who does not reside in the city and has no ties to the city screams the very appearance of impropriety to which French apparently is happy to examine with a blind eye.

While we acknowledge the issue of “cronyism” may be a matter of perception, this issue is not:

Since after the November 2011 elections, a group of residents have waged a campaign of unwarranted attacks. The nature of these assaults ranged from a fact-baseless website diatribe to the adolescent and nefarious mailing of magazines to council members, who were subsequently billed by the magazine publisher. The city manager did not unremittingly denounce these tactics, and some of the people responsible are his friends. (emphasis ours)

We disagree with the level of vitriol that is present in the city and in its running. If you read our coverage, you’ll see that we condemn the tactics and misrepresentations made by both sides of this political fight.

However, French is basically saying that Crotty had a duty to denounce what people were saying.

News flash for Councilmen French: Crotty has no duty or obligation to denounce free speech.

This is not the first time the charge of “not denouncing” something has been laid at the feet of the City manager. It is a childish accusation from a City Council that seems obsessed with denying people’s First Amendment rights.

On February 10, 2012, we wrote on the strange statements made at the beginning of a City Council meeting dealing with the employment of City Manager Crotty:

Mayor Ferrante made an introductory statement before opening the meeting to public comments.

It is here the meeting began to take a turn for the bizarre.

In his statement Ferrante said, in part, “comments concerning the members of the City Council will not be allowed.”

The hairs on the back of our neck stood up. This was a meeting about the contract and performance of the City Manager and yet the Mayor was clearly stating that non-disruptive speech about elected members of the city government would not be allowed. Ferrante is wrong about this. Comments on the actions of a public official in a public forum are allowed and protected speech.

Members of the City Council proceeded to make brief opening statements.

Vice Mayor Rhodes was unclear as to the purpose of the meeting to which the City Council had agreed. (You can draw your own conclusion on that remark.)

Councilman Higginson said he was glad to see so many people in the audience and took that to mean a sign of a healthy government.

Councilman Billman then stated he was tired of the personnel attacks and wanted them to stop. He referenced the anonymous letter and the website listed in the letter and denounced them as “vile and hateful,” and something that “must be stopped.”

(Once again, the hair on the back of our necks stood up. Billman seemed to be advocating some sort of governmental action to prevent what is clearly protected free speech in the political arena.)

Councilwoman Denan echoed the sentiments of “vile and hatred attacks.” She claimed the letter attacked her, her family and her children. (Please feel free to read the letter to see if Denan’s accusations were correct or not. We can find nothing in the letter to support her claim her family and children were attacked.) While sitting on the dais, Councilwoman Denan began to cry when talking about the letter and the website.

Frankly, we were embarrassed for the City of Satellite Beach.

Over the course of several months, we have seen the Council repeatedly try to block the video taping of the City Council meetings by a resident. Despite the law being clear on the issue, and despite several opinions by City Attorney Jim Beadle, City Council members still look for ways to deny citizens their legal rights of taping the meetings.

It is our belief based on what we have seen and read that part of the reason Crotty is leaving is he did not publicly denounce statements made by people against new members of the City Council. We don’t know what Crotty says to people and his friends in private, nor does that matter. The bigger issue is that a City Councilman who is the epitome of a appointment due to cronyism and all that is wrong with politics, taking issue with a person not saying that which the Councilman wants.

French and other Council members need to understand one basic right and truth: compelled speech is not free speech.

Just because Crotty is (or was) an employee of the City, he does not give up certain basic, fundamental rights. He does not lose the right to say what he wishes. He does not lose the right to withhold his tongue and thoughts.

Furthermore, it is amazing to us that someone like French refers to the City Council as “new command structure.” Perhaps it is somewhat of a slip given French’s military background, but it does give insight to his way of thinking. In that he was appointed to the City Council by members who support him and agree with his way of thinking, French’s comment seems to reflect the belief of other council members as well.

Citizens are not to be “commanded.” We are not part of a group to be “commanded.” We are not part of some group to be ordered around at the whim of people we elect. Far from it. In case French and other elected officials need refreshing on the basis of government, you serve at our pleasure, not the other way around. It is the governed that hold the rights of men, not the government.

If the City Council of Satellite Beach and its members cannot understand that, perhaps they should all resign.

UPDATE: As our post was appearing, the Florida Today printed a letter to the editor from Lorraine Gott of Satellite Beach addressing French’s letter and other points:

I’m heartened to learn from Satellite Beach City Councilman’s Lloyd French’s recent guest column there’ll be no cronyism in Satellite Beach under the new regime.

That must have ended with French’s recent appointment to the city council. I’m relieved to know City Manager Michael Crotty’s departure is not a termination.

I guess I was misled by the fact that before November’s election, Crotty fully intended to work a few more years. And by the fact that before French’s appointment, the council did not have the necessary four votes to fire him, so Crotty stayed. And by the fact that as soon as French was appointed to provide the fourth vote, negotiations began for Crotty’s “retirement.”

I’m gratified to learn these were all just innocent coincidences.

I’m enlightened to see French’s confirmation that Crotty’s undoing was his failure to stifle the free speech of council critics.

I’m awed by how quickly our new council has solved all the intractable problems their fertile imaginations created. No more doom and gloom for Satellite Beach.

And I’m impressed by French’s rapid rise in city government. Who knew how far a DUI arrest and relentless contrived allegations of government wrongdoing could take someone?




2 Responses to “Compelled Speech Is Not Free Speech.”

  1. Mary Herzig says:

    Bravo for this article above.I also read the letter to S.Rhodes from Mr. Baker and Mr. Rhodes reply.I was under the impression that Mr. Rhodes was educated. To call one of our citzens a jack-ass and can’t “be in the mood to deal with Mr. Baker crab.” HELLO THERE! If that isn’t sarcasm I don’t know what is.
    I don’t even know Mr.Baker but he is a citizen of Satellite Beach.
    I have lived in Satellite Beach since 1970 and this was a great place to live. I’ve seen this city grow doing a great job and your crones have decided to try and undermined the hard work of our citizen.
    AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN SWEETHEART
    My suggest to Mr. Rhodes is: If the work is to hard maybe you should resign before November! Only a suggest.
    Mary Herzig

    • AAfterwit says:

      Mary Herzig,

      I am unfamiliar with any letter to Mr. Rhodes from Mr. Baker any letter to Mr. Baker from Mr. Rhodes. If you have access to them and would forward them here, I would appreciate it.

      That being said, there are those who are against members of the City Council and are willing to say anything about them to try to embarrass them. On some level we all have to agree that is wrong.

      At the same time, I have seen some of the comments made by the City Council toward citizens. We have to agree those comments are wrong as well.

      The issue therefore is not who is wrong or who is right in the name calling. The issue is not who can raise the level of animosity the most. The issue is not who can try to harm others the most, or who can claim they have been harmed the most.

      Frankly, most people in the City of Satellite Beach don’t care for what appears to be petty and ridiculous bickering amongst political factions.

      The vast majority of citizens simply want the childishness to stop.

      We here at Raised On Hoecakes have tried to be fair in this. We have called out the members of the City Council when they have acted in a manner which we feel is wrong. We have called out citizens when they have attacked members of the Council in an manner which we believe is unfair and inappropriate.

      The question is not “how do we destroy each other,” but rather, “how do we get along with people with whom we have fundamental disagreements?”

      If we cannot answer that question, we need to shut the city down.

      It is that simple. Either resolve this or shut the city, its services and all that entails down.

      Now.

  2. […] a busy night at the world headquarters of Raised on Hoecakes. Our post yesterday entitled “Compelled Speech Is Not Free Speech,” caught the eyes of many people in Satellite Beach, FL. On person was kind enough to post a […]

  3. […] find much truth in Mr. Hinton’s column. We too had commented on the appearance of impropriety in the appointment of Lloyd French to the City Council. We too noted the denial of […]

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