Guest Editorial by Peter Koteas
The First Amendment and Freedom of Expression
October 7, 2009
Until now I have remained relatively silent regarding what follows as I did not feel it was appropriate to take away from all the hard work of the 25th Anniversary planning committee. With that historical event behind us, it is time to look ahead to the future of Carefree and what we want it to be. I wish it wasn’t so, however, in my opinion the current political climate in Carefree is both very contentious and potentially destructive. In light of recent articles authored by other members of the Carefree Common Council in support of Mayor Schwan, I thought it appropriate for you to hear another side of the story, albeit one personal in nature.
I will defer to your best judgment to decide where you believe the truth lies.
The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government.
I bring this to your attention for two specific reasons; one of which is outright arrogance and the other a failed attempt to restrict free speech.
Beyond my concern that our town was being controlled by the will of only a few individuals, a statement made to me approximately two years ago by Mayor Schwan that I found somewhat disturbing also played a role in my decision to run for election. To paraphrase, the statement made to me was, “I do not for work for the citizens, I work for the town.” I may be wrong, but to my way of thinking, the citizens and the town are one. Does this matter to you? Yes or no, it’s your call.
During the primary election this past spring, and as a result of a comment written in an editorial appearing in Sonoran News, David Schwan attempted to censor a supporter of mine by the use of intimidation and threatened to report the individual to a superior if they refused to retract their personal recommendation to voters pertaining to my character. This tactic failed as both my supporter and I rejected the demands for a retraction. This should matter to you.
With each passing day it is becoming more obvious that Carefree will soon be faced with a decision as it pertains to the recall of a Carefree elected official, namely David Schwan.
Unfortunately, during the process, it has been established that the right of free expression of Ryan Ducharme while collecting petition signatures has been interfered with. There has even been a documented threat made against Mr. Ducharme. Ask yourself why anyone would want to suppress the protected free speech of another person unless, of course, they have a personal agenda for doing so?
To make matters worse, there is also the question as to how involved the town staff was in interfering in the legal process. In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic, the town administrator noted town staff is employed on an “at will” basis. In Arizona, which is a right to work state, all employees are employed “at will,” unless they are protected by an employment contract, therefore rendering Mr. Neiss’ comment as baseless. Another comment attributed to Mr. Neiss was that staff is concerned for their job anytime there is a change in administration. If true, this comment is insulting by its suggestion. There was no concern expressed when former Mayor Fulcher took over for former Mayor Morgan, or for that matter when Mayor Schwan took over for former Mayor Fulcher. Did the Town Administrator mean to imply that any change from the status quo is problematic for the town staff? Or did he mean to imply that if the town wasn’t controlled by a certain faction of citizens, there would be cause for staff concern? You would have to ask him for the answer.
From my perspective as an elected official, it seems to me that the best way to maintain one’s employment would be to excel at your individual job and steer clear of town politics.
If past events are truly a harbinger of things to come, I suspect the signers of the recall petition will soon be hearing from Mayor Schwan’s supporters by means of personal letters, possibly telephone calls, and numerous other methods of intimidation they can devise to “convince you” of your ill advised decision.
If people truly care about Carefree, the best barometer of their concern would be that all fellow Carefree citizens be encouraged to vote their preference in the March election. At the end of the day, the town council and town staff serve YOU.
Remember, everyone has the right to free expression and protected speech! Stand up for yours!
I will address civility and town council cohesiveness, or lack thereof, another time.
P.S. Mark the date of November 11 as Carefree will be “Saluting all Veterans” with a special concert in the Town Gardens from 2 – 5 p.m.