THE ISSUE: Commissioner Smith urges policy to silence county employees.

OUR OPINION: A really bad idea.


In the aftermath of the disastrous decision by some commissioners to spout political rhetoric as a reason to overrule the head of the library system on purchasing the New York Times digital subscription, commissioner Jimmy T. Smith added to the commission’s image problem by criticizing a county employee for providing factual information about the emails the visitor bureau had received following national news reports of the decision.

Smith wrote to county manager Randy Oliver that it was inappropriate for the employee to provide information to the reporter and urged development of a county policy that would require all county staffers to direct all comments to the county spokeswoman.

The news story about his comments drew some insightful comments from readers of the online Chronicle. As one wrote: “The Commissioners say something incredibly stupid and a national uproar ensues. Then they blame the local newspaper for reporting what they said and silence a government official for admitting to the damage the Commissioners stupidity caused.”

Another said “So Smith hasn’t learned from the loose lips of Kitchens or Carnahan? The ones touting ‘shut up’ need to say that while looking in a mirror.”

While these may be harsh judgments, they do speak to an underlying truth that the original story was generated by inappropriate comments during a commission meeting, and the commissioner urging a policy to limit the speech of county employees is the commissioner who most frequently criticizes county employees in comments to the media.

While we understand that every county employee cannot be a spokesperson for the county or its policies, and we fully appreciate the work of the county spokeswoman in providing information about county issues or policies, we think Smith’s proposal goes too far. What Smith suggests smacks more of silencing information that elected officials do not want printed than of assuring the public receives accurate and timely information about county activities.

While some questions such as those regarding major policy issues should go through a coordination and review process, department managers and others with significant responsibilities should be free to provide basic factual information about areas under their supervision without worry that a county commissioner will take exception.

These are, after all, employees who work on behalf of county residents, and who are paid by taxes levied on these residents.

In a time when there is already distrust of government, efforts to further limit information going from government to citizens — regardless of their intentions — only add to distrust and further erode public confidence. This is not a good idea.

(4) comments

Miuke Nelson

I see we are going to be a 2nd amendment city. It's too bad the Trump base isn't as concerned about the other parts of the Constitution.

ElissaM

I encourage people, including Commissioner Smith, to read the Vanity Fair article, "National Park Service Defies Trump Gag Order, Tweets Climate Change Facts" (by Maya Kosoff, Jan. 24, 2017). Then read the NPR article, "It's Not Just The Park Service: 'Rogue' Federal Twitter Accounts Multiply" (by Wynne Davis, Jan. 27, 2017).

As the latter article states, "What's different about the number of rogue accounts that have come about as a result of the Trump administration's apparent gag orders on some federal agencies is that this form of expression could be a logical way to oppose a media blackout....all of the actual participation that they are advocating for is normal, and really just advocating for participatory democracy."

Smith may think that it's easier to gag county employees. I wouldn't make that bet.

ROCKON

Of course people like Mr. Smith ,and the other commissioners who voted this out of our budget want to keep folks ignorant as this means he and his likes can continue censure what we can read. Maybe if the commissioners paid at least half the cost of their Health Insurance they get as "part timers" for free, we could afford the digital version of the NYT. Supposedly these commissioners are successful business men who could afford their own health insurance instead of making taxpayers pay for it. I believe it is for some other reason they don't want 70,000 of us to read the most read newspaper in the word. Is it the mantra "Keep 'em down, Keep 'em dumb!"

jens

Little Jimmie T. demonstrated his complete lack of integrity when he didn't admit the commercials and mailouts attacking Nancy Argenziano from the Republican Party of Florida were miss-leading at best, and outrights lies at worst.

I confronted him to his face on this while he and his brother were holding up signs on voting day at Inverness City Hall. He denied knowledge of it.

We must heed the old adage, never elect a politician that needs a job.

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