Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kent County SPCA attempts to redefine the "public" in "public meetings"

The Kent County SPCA is unhappy with the comments made online by the IPOD's Doug Beatty, Cathy Samarzda, and Carol Furr (although, to be honest, I don't know if Carol is formally associated with IPOD), and so has moved to bar the three from its grounds:
“Please be advised that due to your past and ongoing efforts to publically [sic] defame the Kent County SPCA, the Board of Trustees, our employees and me; the decision has been made to prohibit your access to the grounds of the Kent County SPCA,” read the letter, signed by [Shelter director Kevin] Usilton. “We are a privately held organization, and as such we are within our rights to deny your entry on our property.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Usilton's position, the Attorney General's office has already issued an opinion that, since KCSPCA receives state funds and has compliance/arrest power in certain circumstances, the organization's board meetings are public meetings.

This makes the situation a bit murkier, as you have to have a pretty damn good reason to bar somebody from public meetings, which usually involves a threat or a disruption of the process, and that apparently has not happened:
[KCSPCA Vice President Steven] Schwartz said the organization is barring the three from monthly board meetings “so they don’t have the opportunity to gather information that can be falsified,” though he acknowledged that they never caused a disruption during a meeting.
So Beatty, Samarzda, and Furr have never disrupted any public meeting?  And the point of the ban is to keep them from getting information that is disseminated at a public meeting?  Information that, presumably, they could easily get by simply having someone else attend the meeting to take notes or record?

What exactly have these three done?  Apparently, KCSPCA is responding to comments by one or all of the three in online forums or Beatty's Blogtalk radio show, the Independent News Hour.

This is an issue that puts me in Voltaire's position, or at least that of the quotation apocryphally attributed to him:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
To explain:  first, I have not listened to the portions of Beatty's radio show that deal with the KCSPCA.

Are they incorrect and libelous?  I can't say.

But I do have a distinct opinion on Beatty's conduct at such meetings, based on personal experience.

In reporting on another public meeting (hearing, actually) that Beatty and I both attended (on different sides), I completely disagreed with his memory, his observations, and his analysis.  I thought he got several factual points exactly wrong, and I thought his characterizations of certain people were way off base.

But so what?  I'm equally sure that if I wrote down a competing narrative he would find just as much fault with my version, which is a testimony to both the vagaries of memory as well as the unfortunate influence of personal agendas on memory (both his and mine).

Yet I regularly castigate News Journal articles for precisely the same thing, and I am sure that people who have attended public meetings have sometimes read the coverage of them and wondered just what meeting the reporter attended ("He sure as hell didn't see or hear the same things I did").

Just because people take what you say in a public meeting and use it against you, that's not an acceptable reason to bar them from the meetings, because there still is this little thing (shreds of it at least) called the First Amendment.

So while I personally believe that Beatty et al have the capacity to be completely and utterly wrong in their analyses, that's not the issue.  The issue is that they have the absolute right to attend public meetings so long as they do not cause a disruption at the meeting.

Finally, let me say this:  having spent over sixteen hours in a public hearing that Beatty attended (and, remember, he and I are on opposite sides of the issue that was at hand), I can say unequivocally that he was never (a) disruptive; (b) impolite; or (c) anything but a gentleman in terms of his behavior.

If KCSPCA believes that Beatty, Samarzda, and Furr libeled the organization, then let the organization bring suit to try to prove it.

But public meetings must remain open to the public, and if the SPCA Three are arrested and charged for trying to attend one, I'll be supporting their defense.


Doug said...

Thanks Steve,

I'm totally speculating here, but my opinion is that my debut on WGMD on Saturday June 8, 2013 is what 'sent them over the edge'. Cathy Samardza and I discussed the NCC audit of KCSPCA on air.

I don't think Carol Furr is an IPoD member but I've never asked her what her political affiliation is.

Anonymous said...

I still dont understand why Dover Downs showcases such acts as Earthquake (who the hell is Earthquake) when you've got a stadium that hold a hundred thousand people and could hold major summer acts on teh infield like Dave Matthews, Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffett, etc. That seems like a larger draw than Earthquake.