At the end of the August 28 city council meeting, DeKalb mayor Jerry Smith pushed back against public criticism of staff members, threatening to cut comments off with his gavel if he feels “personal attacks are being made.”
There are three of us who have used the forum of public meetings to criticize the city’s website, the rollout of the “FOIA Center,” and most especially the actions of FOIA officer Aaron Stevens (all of which we can prove, by the way). There’s no doubt the mayor was talking about us while he swung his gavel in the air.
But it was when I decided to transcribe the mayor’s comments in full (to counter an argument about their being misconstrued) that I also realized he is mischaracterizing mine. My remarks about Stevens were not personal. They were about his job performance, particularly his reprehensible behavior toward members of the public. That is public business and therefore perfectly appropriate to the venue.
As previously noted, it so happens that making the criticism at a council meeting, while fully within my rights, was actually a last resort for me. It followed mistreatment at a private meeting that nobody has done anything about, including “the buck truly does stop here” Smith.
And FOIA as practiced at City of DeKalb is still not fixed.
My transcription of the mayor’s August 28 comments:
Several meetings ago, this newly-elected mayor made a public pronouncement that he would defend the right of all to speak out at city council meetings and on matters relating to the City of Dekalb. I will continue to live up to that stance. However, what has occurred a few times, most notably during public comment on the Freedom of Information issue at our last council meeting, prompted me to have serious introspection. It was obvious at our August 14 meeting that our FOIA officer was the brunt of several very personal, very critical remarks. And during these remarks, I did nothing. That was wrong. Allowing for those personal remarks to be made without any attempt to halt them or comment about their inappropriateness, I sent the wrong message to many folks, especially to our staff. While I feel very strongly about allowing all of our citizens to speak their mind, I also realize that public meetings like this are not the venue during which personal criticism of anyone, regardless of who they are, should be tolerated. Simply stated, if someone has a problem with a neighbor, a city employee, or anyone else, a face-to-face resolution is usually the best. If it’s a city staffer about whom you have a complaint, you should feel free to discuss it with him or her directly. If that doesn’t work, reach out to their supervisor or department head. That would be appropriate. Finally, if you still feel the problem hasn’t been resolved, call the mayor. Because folks, the buck truly does stop here. Finally, in the future, I will continue to be very tolerant before using this gavel. However, if I feel personal attacks are being made, I will not hesitate to use this.