As Rome Burns, Salisbury’s City Hall Tramples the First Amendment

Posted on June 26, 2017



Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney

♦ 1st Amendment 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 assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment to the US Constitution has subsequently (by judicial opinion) been made applicable to the states and their subdivisions – like the City of Salisbury, North Carolina.

The NC School of Government cites Besler v. Board of Education, a New Jersey case where a speaker at public comment was silenced. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $100,000 and the appeals were launched. Besler prevailed in the end. “They had in the instructions before you get started (that) the public can speak on anything of interest and must limit it to five minutes,” he said. “They let others speak and then, when they got to me, about halfway through my speech they gaveled me and I was pretty much limited.” You can read the opinion below.

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2009/09/free_speech_case_hits_top_cour.html

https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17028097131008839488&q=Besler+v.+Board+of+education&hl=en&as_sdt=6,34&as_vis=1

Readers of Rowan Free Press may take time to review and reflect on our previously published videos where Mayor Karen Alexander gaveled down local activist Carolyn Logan and to a lesser extent, myself at meetings based upon the content of our speech at public comment. From Beesler:

“Our free society must give breathing room for an “uninhibited” and “robust” discussion of public issues, even when it “include[s] vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270, 84 S.Ct. 710, 721, 11 L.Ed.2d 686, 701 (1964). One of the core purposes of the First Amendment is to protect speech on matters of public interest, including speech that the government finds offensive. See Police Dep’t of Chi. v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 96, 92 S.Ct. 2286, 2290, 33 L.Ed.2d 212, 217 (1972). Freedom of speech, therefore, protects not just the speech that we find agreeable, but also the speech that we hate. See Tex. v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414, 109 S.Ct. 2533, 2545, 105 L.Ed.2d 342, 360 (1989); see also Girouard v. U.S., 328 U.S. 61, 68, 66 S.Ct. 826, 829, 90 L.Ed. 1084, 1090 (1946) (citing U.S. v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644, 654-55, 49 S.Ct. 448, 451, 73L.Ed. 889, 893 (1929) (Holmes, J., dissenting)).”

Section 2, paragraph 8 of the Salisbury City Council Code of Ethics also states, that ethical behavior includes “Treating other council members and the public with respect and honoring the opinions of others even when the council members disagree with those opinions.” That clearly is not happening. (The Salisbury City Council Code of Ethics is posted at the end of this article)

Of equal importance is city hall’s current practice and habit of stifling and disallowing dissent in any forum over which they have any control. A month or so ago, I joined a web-site called Nextdoor. It was primarily a test for me. I had heard that the Salisbury Nextdoor was in some manner controlled by city hall and dissent was not allowed, but I ventured forth as a member of Nextdoor in the Depot neighborhood and gave tips on flooding basements, good repairmen, and such and dutifully read all the pro-city announcements posted almost daily by Salisbury’s Public Information Officer and eventually disagreed with her. It was not long before I found out I was sent to limited access mode where I could read things, but not post anymore. In all fairness, the reasons for blocking on this site are so amorphous and vague almost anyone could be blocked by local moderators. I have posted a page of reasons below. I quit the site.

The city also has a number of social media sites. One popped up regarding the City giving away a “cheese cutting board” shaped like North Carolina on Facebook. I noticed a local guy, Mark Cantrell posting comments that while not initially vulgar in any respect, did not properly support our city staff or our old incumbent city council.  Suddenly, his posts were taken down and replaced with some vague social media policy about being “off topic.” They really weren’t. A screen-shot of that public relations train wreck can be found at the end of this article.

A strong, well managed, and well led municipality can withstand criticism and even learn a great deal from its detractors. The City of Salisbury can’t and that might startle you considering our city’s towering challenges.

City of Salisbury, N.C. Facebook page where they mysteriously remove alleged city detractors, naysayers, and so-called Salisbury haters (Click on to enlarge):

Nextdoor’s copius policies for removing city detractors, naysayers, and alleged Salisbury haters: (Click on to enlarge)

Salisbury’s City Council’s Code of Ethics:

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