In my opinion.
Note – all documentation is in blue and can be clicked on for viewing.
Recap – On December seventh and eighth of 2018 the Town Council held a mini planning conference. During the December 8th meeting Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners Jeff Miller, John Urban, Chris Melton, Kress Query and Barbara Dement all voted in support to silence the voice of the people. Why? As stated by Mayor Paul Bailey, “I don’t appreciate the behavior I’ve seen from some of our citizens in the past year that I’ve never seen before” with Commissioner Kress Query agreeing that “at some point in time the mayor needs to shut people down if necessary.”
Below, in blue, are the approved minutes and rough draft notes for the 12-8-2018 discussion of Ethics by the Mayor and Commissioners. I encourage you to read the rough draft notes and then the approved minutes. What are rough draft notes and approved minutes? Rough draft notes are the actual notes taken during the meeting and the approved minutes are what the Mayor and Commissioners approved for public records.
Were you able to see how citizens are/have been mislead and did you notice Commissioner Jeff Miller’s “idiot” comment concerning his neighbor was deleted in the approved minutes? So much for transparency.
On January 14, 2019 during the Board of Commissioners meeting the Mayor and Commissioners discussed a draft phrasing for a Public Comment Policy. In other words, Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners Jeff Miller, John Urban, Chris Melton, Kress Query and Barbara Dement want a statement to be read before public comment which could intimidate some from speaking therefore could suppress their First Amendment Right of Freedom of Speech. Mayor Pro Tem John Higdon was the only commissioner voicing his disapproval and spoke in favor of the citizen’s and their right to freedom of speech.
During public comment of the January 14th Board of Commissioners meeting I and a citizen of Matthews, Mark Tofano, exercised our First Amendment Right. It’s pretty crappy when someone has to get out of bed when they are sick and drive to the Town Hall and fight for the First Amendment, but when we have Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners Jeff Miller, John Urban, Chris Melton, Kress Query and Barbara Dement who want to silence the voice of the people, well I took offense gathered my thoughts and made myself heard.
My statement – “On December 11, 2017 all of you swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of North Carolina and by not doing so you swore “I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office.”
” The first ten amendments to the Constitution were ratified effective on December 15, 1791 and these are known as the Bill of Rights. In amendment one it states – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“Tonight you will discussing your policy to be read before public comment. In this statement it states “we ask that all speakers be respectful and refrain from defamation of character.”
“According to Blacks Law Dictionary – Defamation is the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third party.”
“Because you do not “appreciate the behavior of some citizens” is not defamation of character. Nor is it defamation when a citizen comes forward with his/her concerns of behavior, ethics, financial profit or actions taken by anyone on this council. We have the right to petition the Government. In the mini conference draft notes it is noted that Mayor Bailey stated “We have the freedom to say what we think and believe.” We the people also have that right. So when you have decided to abridge a citizens comment, their freedom of speech, not only have you violated the First Amendment you have also violated your oath therefore leading for you to faithfully discharge yourself from office.”
Mark Tofano’s comment – “On December 12 I sent an email to the elected officials and staff that were present at the Dec 8 mini conference that was held in this room expressing the profound sadness that I felt as a result of listening to the disturbing discussions which related to the desire of our mayor and some commissioners to have a statement read prior to the public comment portion of the town board meetings.”
“In that email, I urged that the announcement would be strictly procedural and that there would not be any words included that could possibly be construed as limiting free speech.”
“On January 9, Assistant Town Manager Becky Hawke authored a letter that proposed test that would be used as the announcement. There is wording in this proposed announcement that causes me great concern.”
“The wording, “….all speakers be respectful and refrain from defamation of character”.
“Defamation of character is a legal matter, determined by the courts, not arbitrarily by a political figure. In the landmark case of New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964 the US Supreme Court held that certain defamatory statements were protected by the first amendment. The court stated that there must be “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.”
“The bar for measuring defamatory statements made about public figures is much higher than for private citizens. For a statement made about a public figure to be deemed defamatory, it must be proven that it was mad with “actual malice”.
“To stop a citizen from speaking on the basis that you judge it to be defamatory is not only depriving that citizen of their first amendment right but, at the same time is a defamatory statement in itself.”
“The wording, “…..each speaker will have up to four minutes”.
“The four minute rule was put in place by a vote of this board ONLY if it was used as a guideline, not as a finite period of time. However, on more than one occasion, a speaker has been interrupted when the four minutes was reached and on occasion the gavel was used to stop the speaker from uttering another word.”
“Using the four minute as a guideline, the speaker should be respectfully reminded that the four minutes had expired and then kindly asked if a few more moments are needed to complete a phrease or thought.”
“The wording, “….Discussion between speakers and audience members is not permitted”.
“The definition of a discussion, according to the Cambridge dictionary, is “….the activity in which people talk about something and tell each other their ideas or opinions”. Addressing the audience and making a comment is NOT a discussion. Addressing the audience and speaking has been allowed and encouraged during public comment here in Matthews for a long time.”
“There will be claims that this proposed announcement was phrased in such a way as to reflect the announcements spoken at other governing bodies in the state. What is said elsewhere is not what is important, it is what is said in Matthews that matters.”
“I ask, again, that announcement be purely procedural and that all other wording be removed.”
“There were many disparaging words spoken about the citizens of Matthews on December 8 by our elected official. But out of this dark moment there was only one dissenting voice among all of you and that was the voice of Mayor Pro Tem John Higdon when he stated “…I don’t think we should discourage the public from expressing their discontent with an opinion that anybody may have. This may end up quashing public opinion, make people less likely to voice their displeasure with a position ….I think people should be able to say whatever they want.”
“The irony of it all is this is a town that states it is friendly to veterans, but at the same time its elected officials attempt to quell the very rights for which they fought and died.”
WOW!!! Nuff said.
After our statements Mayor Paul Bailey decided to put his spin on the meeting denying the Council did not discuss silencing the people, but if you listen to the audio you will hear the truth. On February 11th by email I asked Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners when will the audio be available on the town website for the citizens of Matthews. There has been no reply. So… how can Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners keep the citizenry from learning the truth? Simple, keep the audio from public records. As of this posting March 4th, the audio is still not available on the town website.
Later in the meeting the discussion on ethics and freedom of speech ensued. Commissioner Kress Query constantly argued they were being personally attacked with not ONE example. Commissioner Jeff Miller did not say a word. Mayor Paul Bailey spoke of how he could not remember any citizen ever being denied their Constitutional right. Interesting, well let me just refresh his memory of one example. In 1992 Virginia Wright, of Matthews, learned of a issue with the town and went to the Town Hall to file a complaint. Unfortunately she was unaware that the former Matthews Chief of Police had been instructed by Town Attorney Charles Buckley to keep her out of the Town Hall as noted in his affidavit. The Town Hall is a public building bought and paid for by taxpayer funds so Mrs. Wright had every right to enter the Town Hall and file a complaint. Keeping Mrs. Wright from entering the Town Hall, in my opinion, is a BIG fat YES in violating her Constitutional right.
The discussion of ethics and freedom of speech came to an end with Mayor Bailey and Commissioners deciding to discuss this at a later date. Funny but I have a feeling this will not be on the agenda anytime soon. It’s an election year.
FYI – If the Wright name sounds familiar you may remember Town of Matthews v. Wright. For twenty years the Wrights fought the town for their property rights. Mayor Paul Bailey and Commissioners Jeff Miller, John Urban and Kress Query voted to condemn the Wrights property for the well-connected of Matthews as stated by Judge Bridges of the NC Supreme Court who ruled the condemnation was “arbitrary and capricious”. I found it interesting how Town Attorney Charles Buckley called Mrs. Wright a “nut case” as stated in former Police Chief Ronnie Morris’s affidavit. Hmmm, Isn’t that a personal attack? Furthermore, if Mrs. Wright is a “nut case” than why did she continue to win in in court? Why did Judge Hunter of the NC Court of Appeals order the town to pay Mr. & Mrs. Wright their attorney fees of $74,500.00 for 2015? The condemnation of Mr. & Mrs. Wright property was just another lie by the Town. Over 20 years spent pursuing this while spending over $250,000.00 of taxpayer funds. Citizens were told the condemnation was for the “opening, widening, extending or improving roads, streets, alleys and sidewalks” when in fact this was not true as stated by Town Manager Hazen Blodgett in his deposition.
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Thank you. Gina Hoover