Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:34 pm

SB 36: Baby, meet bathwater

A couple of folks in the local blogosphere — e.g., George Hartzman, here — have suggested that SB 36, State Sen. Trudy Wade’s misbegotten monkeying around with the city of Greensboro’s election system, will be good for Greensboro because it will rid the city of a corrupt City Council. Their thinking is that because the redistricting that SB 36 calls for would place several council members in one district, forcing them to run against each other, several inevitably would be voted off the council.

If in fact most or all council members are corrupt, then this is a legitimate point. So let’s examine it.

Caveat: I’m not prepared right now to say as a fact that one or more members of the council are corrupt — or not corrupt, for that matter. So, for the purposes of this post, let’s posit that all nine of them are dirtier than a ’57 Buick’s oil pan. Let’s further posit that, for whatever reason, law enforcement cannot or will not deal with the corruption for us.

SB 36 still would be the wrong solution to the problem.

Why? Simple. Although it might get rid of some incumbent council members, there’s no guarantee that it would get rid of those who actually are corrupt. Moreover, because it would give voters a say over fewer seats on the council (one district member plus a mostly-non-voting mayor, as opposed to a district member, three at-large members and a voting mayor on the nine-member panel under the current system), it would make unseating future corrupt council members even more difficult than it is now — to say nothing of the fact that council members would face voters only every four years, instead of every two as they do now.

So SB 36 would be, at best, an uncertain and temporary solution to a problem that, history shows, tends to recur among politicians. And it would make dealing with recurrences of the problem even harder.

Look, if you think that a council member is corrupt, your path is clear: WORK TO GET HIM/HER VOTED OUT. Unlike congressional and legislative districts, Greensboro City Council districts aren’t gerrymandered. Nobody’s seat is safe, particularly if he or she is corrupt. We already have a sufficient mechanism in place to replace corrupt council members. SB 36 remains what it always has been: a solution in search of a problem and an attempt by anonymous corporate interests to win through their puppet legislature what they cannot win in Greensboro’s ballot boxes.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013 6:01 pm

Police Chief Ken Miller, the First Amendment would like to see you

About eight years ago, I met Greensboro blogger Billy Jones. Billy and I disagree on politics almost as often as Fred and I do, but as with Fred, he and I have a very good RL relationship and I consider him a friend.

Billy took to his blog on Tuesday to take issue with the fact that George Hartzman, a candidate for mayor, apparently (I say “apparently” because I have no first-hand knowledge of this) was removed from the city’s farmer’s market this past Saturday for campaigning on city property. Billy’s post includes a lot of the email back-and-forth, which includes not only the original parties but also the Guilford County Board of Elections (which took Hartzman’s side), blogger and formal mayoral candidate Roch Smith Jr., and others. Billy concludes with this segment from the majority ruling in the 1938 U.S. Supreme Court case Lovell v. City of Griffin, which would appear to be the last word on the subject:

“4. A city ordinance forbidding as a nuisance the distribution, by hand or otherwise, of literature of any kind without first obtaining written permission from the City Manager, violates the Fourteenth Amendment; strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship. P. 450.

So held as applied to distribution of pamphlets and magazines in the nature of religious tracts.

5. The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It embraces pamphlets and leaflets. P. 452.

6. One who is prosecuted for disobeying a license ordinance which is void on its face may contest its validity without having sought a permit under it. P. 452. “

(Billy’s link is broken, but his pagination appears to match that of the source to which I’m linking.)

Billy himself then concluded:

I think we know what is going on here. As usual supporters of the status quo are stalling,  hoping Greensboro’s working class will give up the fight, roll over and die. Well here’s some news for you Mr S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan: Greensboro’s working class is educated, organized, pissed-off and ready to fight. We have access to the law and the media worldwide. And if you and your kind think you can continue to run Greensboro as Greensboro has been run for the last 100 years… Well click here and I think you will change your mind.

You can run but you cannot hide behind your lies.

Up to this point, some disagreement but nothing egregious. But then, yesterday morning, Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller, acting in his official capacity, wrote Billy the following:

From: Miller, Ken <Ken.Miller@greensboro-nc.gov>
Date: Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 7:05 AM
Subject: Encouragement
To: “Jones, Billy” <recyclebill@gmail.com>

Hi Billy,

I see a post on your blog that I am requesting and hoping you will remove it right away:

“I think we know what is going on here. As usual supporters of the status quo are stalling,  hoping Greensboro’s working class will give up the fight, roll over and die. Well here’s some news for you Mr S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan: Greensboro’s working class is educated, organized, pissed-off and ready to fight. We have access to the law and the media worldwide. And if you and your kind think you can continue to run Greensboro as Greensboro has been run for the last 100 years… Well click here and I think you will change your mind.

You can run but you cannot hide behind your lies.”

The language appears threatening and, even if you can qualify it as protected speech, adding the link to a Google map of Mujeeb’s home after indicating that the working class is “ready to fight” and before “you can run but you cannot hide…” certainly can be construed to be threatening or encouraging others to act upon your information.

I am, of course, appealing to your sensibilities here in asking you to remove the paragraph from your site, and I hope you will honor the request.

Kind regards,

Ken Miller

I’m not sure what the chief is thinking here, but he certainly is not thinking about the Supreme Court’s standard for what comprises a threat without constitutional protection. Having gotten a copy of Chief Miller’s email, I wrote to set him straight:

From: Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com>
To: Ken.Miller@greensboro-nc.gov
Date: July 24, 2013
Subject: Billy Jones

I don’t normally involve myself in local politics beyond voting (which I haven’t missed doing since moving here 27 years ago), but violations of basic human and constitutional rights are a whole ‘nother subject.
I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Tell me you didn’t send that moronic email Billy Jones quotes you as having sent. There’s nothing in Billy’s blog post that comes anywhere CLOSE to the standard for threats defined by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio:

…the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

You owe him an apology, and you owe us, the citizens of Greensboro, better sense. If you can’t muster it, resign. If you’re actually this misinformed, you’re just a lawsuit waiting to happen, and frankly, my tax dollars have better things to do than clean up your mess.
Sincerely, etc.

(The chief sent a one-sentence response thanking me for my perspective, which, depending on how you look at it, could be the civil response of a man swamped by job duties or an upraised middle finger.)

Feel free to disagree with Billy about city policy. Feel free to disagree with George Hartzman’s rights to speak on public property if you like; Lovell, after all, speaks to pamphleteering, not actual spoken words, and Hartzman’s efforts to speak may or may not have run afoul of time, place and manner restrictions recognized by the Supreme Court — I wasn’t there, so I don’t know.

But communicating threats is a crime in North Carolina, and it is incumbent upon law enforcement to understand, then, what constitutes a prosecutable threat. Billy’s blog post was a warning, not a threat, and it certainly does not appear on its face likely to “incite or produce” “imminent, lawless action.” We demonstrably have a police chief who does not understand the difference; thus, we have a chief unfit for his job.

My involvement in local politics is limited to voting, and that’s not changing here because when a high-ranking local official demonstrates constitutional ignorance in an area of his supposed expertise, that’s a problem for every resident of the city, not a political issue. If nothing else, it leaves every one of us city taxpayers legally exposed if someone sues the city for official actions stemming from that ignorance. And as I said in my email to Chief Miller, my tax dollars have better things to do. I’m pretty sure yours do, too.

Friday, June 15, 2012 7:42 pm

Calling Wells Fargo out

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 7:42 pm
Tags: , ,

I don’t think I’ve ever met George Hartzman in real life — and I apologize to him if I have and don’t remember. In the local blogosphere, he runs the Triad Watch blog, with a related Facebook group of which I am a member for reasons that date back to my social-media work at the News & Record. He also has a personal blog.

George has filed a complaint with the N.C. Securities Division against Wells Fargo, alleging violations of Sarbanes-Oxley. That would be the same Wells Fargo for which he currently works.

I’ll let you read it for yourself. But my gut reaction is that there are two and only two possible explanations for his doing so.

1) He is delusional.

2) He is, whether right or wrong, stone-cold certain he has caught his employer violating the law, has tried to work within the company to have the violations corrected and has failed to do so, and is pursuing the only avenue he sees left to protect his clients’ interests.

If the correct answer turns out to be No. 2, I’m not sure how he even gets in his car every morning, what with those big, brass balls clanking around and all.

(h/t: Ed)

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