George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, is set in the superstate of Oceania – where under the control of the privileged elite – individualism, political dissent and alternative opinions are considered “thought crimes.”
In the novel, the ruling class use omnipresent surveillance and other malevolent means of controlling the speech, actions and even thoughts of its servile subjects.
Chief among these tactics is the Thought Police, who ensure that no one violates or challenges the government’s definition of “ideological correctness.”
In the 21st Century, this idea has taken the form of what we know as ‘political correctness’ – where words or speech are labeled as inappropriate, and subject the individual uttering them to branding, denouncement and personal ruin.
One can rightly argue that modern America is rapidly mirroring the Orwellian concepts of Big Brother, thought control, and ideological conformity.
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of it.
In recent months, the City of Deltona has challenged DeBary for the title of most dysfunctional municipality in Volusia County – which, as “The Stranger” said – put’s them high in the running for the most dysfunctional government anywhere.
Back in September, Deltona City Commissioner Brain Soukup had the temerity to question City Manager Jane Shang’s integrity following the promotion of a firefighter. As part of that personnel action, the firefighter received an extremely unusual “one time” payout of $93,000.00 in unused leave.
Commissioner Soukup took issue with the questionable expenditure (I never saw one like it for an internal promotion in over 30-years of government service) and he believed Shang lied to him “by omission” during his inquiry into the matter.
For his trouble, Soukup’s remarks were met with sharp rebukes from Mayor John Masiarczyk and Vice Mayor Chris Nabicht – both of whom thought Soukup’s comments somehow bruised the delicate sensibilities of the Deltona fire union.
During the tempest in a teapot, Nabicht – a retired Deltona deputy fire chief – barked, “You’re out of line, Soukup.”
Out of line? Interesting.
In most municipalities, these dust-ups are just that – they clear the air, vent frustrations, and let everyone involved know where the other stands on issues important to them.
Can this be uncomfortable for staff? You bet it can.
Is the process important to the overall health of the organization? You bet it is.
Now, in perhaps the most chilling move I’ve ever witnessed from a municipal government – the City of Deltona has proposed – and constructed – something called a “Civility Ordinance.”
A law designed to control the manner and means by which the people’s elected representatives can point out the errors and omissions of senior executives, voice critical opinions on staff performance or address constituent complaints.
You read that right. A municipal ordinance governing “civility.”
As I understand it, the idea was hatched by City Attorney Becky Vose, who drafted an ordinance addressing “workplace bullying” within the city. During a discussion with Commissioner Heidi Herzberg, Vose apparently advised that the bullying law would also apply to the speech and conduct of elected officials acting in their official capacity.
Apparently, the dubious proposal was championed by the Mayor and Vice Mayor who hurried the draft ordinance onto a workshop agenda.
The discussion will take place this evening at Deltona City Hall.
The problem is – this isn’t an anti-bullying measure at all.
It is a direct attack on the rights and responsibilities of Deltona’s elected officials – and a roadmap for ignoring the sacred vote of residents to effectively get rid of “offending” commissioners by collusion of the majority.
Sound familiar, DeBary? It damn well should.
The proposed law specifically prohibits:
- The use of disrespectful and/or devaluing language;
- Persistent or extended criticism in front of other persons (including coworkers, vendors, contractors or members of the public); or
- Behaviors, actions, conduct or language with the intent to frighten, humiliate, belittle or degrade, including criticism delivered with a raised voice, yelling and/or screaming.
The law goes on to spell out a convoluted process by which the people’s elected representatives may file written complaints “comporting with due process and free speech rights” (?) prior to addressing wrongdoing by a charter officer or city employee “in a public meeting.”
What happens should a hapless city commissioner violate the “Civility” law?
“Violations of this Article XI, including but not limited to failure to adhere to the procedures set forth in this Article, by an elected city official acting in his or her official capacity shall constitute misconduct in office, malfeasance and/or misfeasance, as applicable, and may be the basis for censure with reasonable penalties as determined by a majority vote of the City Commission.”
This over-broad and patently biased pile of festering dog shit is an affront to everything free citizens of this nation believe, fight, and die for.
As someone who cares deeply about good governance and the protection of our Constitutionally protected rights to free speech, self-expression and the redress of grievances, let me set the record straight:
How dare these lily-livered, hyper-sensitive assholes attempt to legitimize their powerfully stupid and highly subjective notion of “devaluing speech” through the legislative process.
How dare they devalue our essential right to free speech and expression – especially in the context of a public meeting.
This country was founded upon the spirited debate of differing opinions and ideas.
Our basic rights – such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizures – all survived after bitter and divisive arguments between our Founding Fathers.
Leadership and good government do not take place in a vacuum.
In my view, to effectively tie the hands of the people’s elected representatives, and legislatively hamstring their sworn responsibilities to the community they serve, has a chilling effect on the process and consolidates ultimate power in the elite few who interpret things like what constitutes “devaluing” speech.
In my view, the City of Deltona clearly has deeper issues than any cockamamie “civility ordinance” can repair. When a government reaches this level of open dysfunction, it is time for the senior staff to take their leave – voluntarily or involuntarily.
Clearly, Ms. Shang and Ms. Vose – with the acquiescence of several commissioners – are attempting to enact a prophylactic ordinance specifically designed to control the otherwise lawful conduct of the citizens elected representatives – and set the table for forcibly removing duly elected “offenders.”
This goes deeper than petty self-protection.
It represents the height of arrogance in a public official – and may well signal evidence of deeper and darker issues in Deltona City Hall.
Keep your eyes on this one, folks.