Thursday, October 20, 2016

Watch the Council Meeting for Yourself: Part 1

Tuesday night's Common Council meeting was so long--longer even than the third presidential debate--that Dan Udell had to put his videotape of the meeting on YouTube in two parts. Part 1, which is mostly about Alderman Tiffany Garriga's removal from the Police Committee, is now available and can be viewed here.



  1. The alleged abridgment of the Alderman's First Amendment rights meets none of the criteria of a recognized "chilling" of speech. Her demotion from a committee was not a proscriptive act. Today, after being removed from the committee, the Alderman is as free as she ever was to express her views publicly, and to continue serving her constituents as she sees fit.

    Removal from the committee didn't deprive her of an authority she enjoyed by virtue of a popular election. Her position on the police committee was a benefit bestowed by another elected official who, by removing the Alderman, was exercising her own rights as granted by the City Charter. In fact, the exercise of the President's rights is secured by the First Amendment, as we'll all soon understand.

    The mistake of certain people who pander to populist ignorance is in supposing that the demoted Alderman's free speech act immunized her as a committee member from the political fallout of what she allegedly wrote or said. It doesn't - not under the First Amendment - no way no how.

    The Council President acted within the regular functioning of the political process when she opted to remove the Alderman when, where, and how she chose to. (The weakness of the protest is most apparent whenever the President is asked why she chose the moment she did to rearrange the committee.)

    What makes this case noteworthy is not the Madding Crowd's unfounded cliches about free speech, but the fact that the Council President is a woman. It's due to her gender that her critics aren't willing to give her the benefit of any doubt. Of course the definition of self-righteousness is that it doesn't entertain self-doubt, but we'll soon see these protesters are the ones who don't understand the First Amendment.

    What's harder to prove is the sexist component of the self-righteousness, to wit:

    "Someday, in that [President's] chair, there might be someone who understands what they're doing. Frankly Madame, you do not. Every time you do something since you took office, you express how little you understand about what we do here, and about what the flag means, and about what the oath of office you took means. ..." [to great applause].

    And when we learn that it's the Council President, and not the speakers of noble-sounding blather, who understands her own oath AND the First Amendment better than her critics do, will my neighbors then scrutinize the implicit sexism of their own assumptions? Will they be willing to search their own hearts?

    The free speech argument will fail, and honest people who opposed the President on free speech grounds might consider preparing their apologies now. The most ethical time to entertain self-doubt is always in the present, and not only after the President's certain vindication.

    1. That's a lot of words to come to the wrong conclusion. The chilling effect isn't just upon the speaker, sir, but also upon would-be speakers who, in fear of political retribution, self-censor rather than face the power of the state regardless of how emasculated it may be in terms of its ability to mete out meaningful (i.e. painful) penalties.

      Your conclusion that there is any bias on my part towards Claudia due to her gender is specious: it is classic bootstrapping (because she's a woman and she's being criticized she is being criticized because she is a woman). That's pap. She's being criticized because she is arrogant in her ignorance of the import of her position and its limits. She's being criticized because what she is attempting to do smacks of the petty tyrant, the person in political power who uses that power to deliver a blow to a rival or enemy. She is being criticized because rather than admit her mistake, she compounds it by holding firm to her poor decision in the face of 100% disapproval from the house she purports (and is tasked) with leading.

      The facts of this situation are both public and plain on their face. All attempts to obfuscate the simple truth and the most obvious of outcomes given the circumstances require lengthy explanations (Dow and now Mr. O'Conner) and, at least in the latter's case, baseless claims of bias. Blather.

  2. Your definition of the "chilling effect" is so broad and simplistic it's absurd.

    You even fail to register the distinction the courts make between civilian speech, and political exchanges between legislators and other politicians (the classic message for the latter being: "grow a tougher skin").

    As to the charge of sexism, I was often alone in my criticism of the previous council president, an authoritative-sounding fellow who typically enjoyed an autocratic and heavy-handed approach in his leadership, even when obviously wrong. He routinely frustrated free speech in a manner which was counter to established guidelines, and on more than one occasion I stood alone in recommending him for censure, or even criminal prosecution, from higher authorities. (Careful in defending your friend here; one of those charges is current.)

    Council President DeStefano was under intense scrutiny even before she took her seat. It was immediately following the election that a woman on the Community Board characterized the president-elect as being a puppet of ex-Mayor Scalera. The commenter admitted she knew little about her, but she knew that any woman who was conservative in appearance was categorically unable to think for herself.

    This sort of criticism has continued, and out of all proportion to the sporadic criticism offered for a predecessor who actually did break laws and subvert policies. (Oh, please challenge me for examples! Give me an opportunity to drag it all up again!)

    Regarding the First Amendment, there's only one answer who's right and who's wrong here, but I'm telling you what any lawyer who's not in someone's pay already knows: that your theatrical attacks citing free speech against the council president's action will backfire on you. When the time comes, I'll make sure of it.

    And when that happens, your supporters will be prepared in advance to spot their own sexist assumptions which, unfortunately, precious few warrant themselves capable.

  3. My suggestion is to wait for a legal opinion from the City attorney as to whether Tiffany Garriga as a matter of law still sits on the police subcommittee or not because of the stated reason that she was removed (and there is applicable case law on this subject, because I took a quick look myself after watching the video of episode 1 of all the sanguinary action). That is the main issue to resolve at present. The balance of the issues, since Claudia DeStefano seems not disposed to change her mind as to the policy merits of her decision (which decision I disagree with for basically the same reasons as Mr. Friedman, and have so stated), will need to be resolved at the ballot box during the City election cycle in 2017.

    1. Mr. Friedman gave his opinion loudly and freely, which merited a reply. Perhaps he should have waited until he read the case law himself. (I'm certainly not going to help him with his homework!)

      In one thing, though, Alderman Garriga is certainly correct, and that's that President DeStefano must submit the Alderman's removal in writing to the City Clerk for the personnel change to take effect. Until it's official, it ain't official.

    2. Tim, I've read the caselaw. Unlike yourself, I also understand it. The chilling effect of censorship is that broad -- that's why censorship is so pernicious. As for the distinction between what you call civilian speech and that between politicians, it may sometimes be valid but is not at issue here: the speech in question was not between one pol and another; it was between a pol and the public which, on the basis of self-described "chatter," the other pol based their decision to harm the speaker. If you can't see the harm there, I'm not going to try to explain it to you.