Crossing the line

You may or may not be aware of a little controversy in Jacksonville FL recently.  This article summarized it nicely, and rather than do so here, I trust you will get the gist quickly.

The citation was probably accurate under the city code as written, wrongheaded, and it looks like that rule has been amended to allow for military flags.  But honestly, that wasn't particularly shocking to me, being just a poorly written and overly non-specific rule.  The code enforcer's treatment of a veteran in the store (not the business owner being cited, but just a customer who happened to be in the store) was outrageous, and while it crossed the line, that's not actually so much what I want to talk about.

Instead, it got me thinking.  This woman is a city employee.  A government official.  Can the government fire her for being rude?  Should the government be able to fire an employee for stating an unpopular opinion?  I go back and forth on this.  Sure, if she were a private employee, her employer could toss her out the door for bringing controversy to the business.  But the government is bound by the First Amendment in a way that private businesses are not.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if there is not some rule or regulation about representing the city in a negative light, or perhaps mistreatment of the public as being a fireable offense, and if such a rule exists, and it was a condition of her employment, controversy over... mostly.  If there is no such rule, then I don't know that she can legally be fired for being rude to a veteran.  And I don't know if she ought to be.

I am a veteran.  I can hardly think of a more grave insult you can pay to a wounded vet that "you did nothing for this country" (which is what was originally reported, but I will accept the article's interpretation that she actually said what the vet did overseas does not matter [in the context of the citation]).  But insults still are protected speech.  Oh, one may face social opprobrium for saying such a thing.  One may be ostracized and publicly shamed, and rightfully so.  But the government cannot punish someone for expressing an opinion, regardless of how unpopular it may be.  They are prohibited from doing so, and should be prohibited from doing so.  And I don't know that I want the government to start getting into the business of deciding what speech is protected, and what is not.  Because that is a VERY short slope towards the modern leftist desire to label all speech they do not like as unprotected "hate speech", and then using that to legally ban such speech.


Grim said...

Why isn't the 1A concern properly the right to fly a flag? A government employee expressing the opinion that you shouldn't fly a flag they don't like is directly violating the 1A. The rule does too. Flags are political speech, which is the most protected sort.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I work for a government hospital and would be fired for treating a member of the public that way, whether their opinion or mine was right or wrong.

E Hines said...

I agree with AVI: it's the unprofessionalism that wants sanction, not the opinion expressed in an unprofessional manner. The unprofessionalism is compounded by her own claims of intimate familiarity with veterans: she knew better on the particular subject.

Beyond that, as a government employee, she should be held to higher standards of comportment than a private employee: she brings the full weight of government with her in all of her actions. She hasn't any excuse for losing her temper like that; in no place in the article or in her apology is there any indication that she felt threatened by a citizen's objection to a citation.

Fire her for cause. If she objects, she can do so in open court where her comportment and the professionalism, even level of integrity implied by her comportment, can be examined by the public in the sworn-to evidence presented.

An aside: a flag is a sign? Quite apart from any 1A questions, that strikes me as a poorly written ordinance if it states that a flag is a sign for the purpose of the ordinance.

Eric Hines

J Melcher said...

Unprofessional behavior reflecting poorly on her employer, yes. A firing offense, and for a FIRST (or first time, caught on video, sufficiently documented) offense? Of that, I am not at all sure. Write it up, and put the employee on 90 day probation. If this or similar abuse happens again, then fire. Otherwise, file and review at year's end.

Do not keep such sanctions "private and confidential". An example to the rest of the workforce regarding expectations and consequences is entirely necessary to communication.

Aggie said...

Working for the government is no different than working for any business.

When you're on the clock, you leave your opinions in your locker and carry on with delivery of your job description. This is called being a professional. So yes - if a worker is obnoxious with their personal opinions within the context of executing their job responsibilities, then they can be fired, or put on a performance management plan that will lead to firing with continued offenses. She ought to be and so should her supervisor, who was in the store and did not step in.

Similarly, that's why there ought to be a lot of unemployed (and otherwise, unemployable) football players right about now.

Korora said...

Can't access the article.

E Hines said...

Copy the URL into your browser's address field. Alphabet, through its wholly-owned Google, blocks direct access to Fox News from Blogger.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

A firing offense, and for a FIRST...offense? Of that, I am not at all sure.

She's a government official. She knew full well what she was doing, even on the first time, and she chose to do it anyway. This first offense is a fireable one.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to the term "Civil Servant?
Oh, its gone now that they make more money than the rest of us.

Anyway, I think Kenny at Reconteur Report has great suggestions on how to deal with ingrate civil servants

Have a look.

Civic Service 101

Texan99 said...

Sure she can be fired for being rude to a customer, even if she's expressing her first-amendment right of free speech. I don't see that anyone has a right to do his job badly because he's too busy indulging his right of political (or religious) freedom of speech. That protection should apply to what he does on his own time, on Facebook, for instance. It doesn't mean that a civil servant in the White House gets to wear a "Never Trump" t-shirt when his job requirements are to wear a uniform or a suit. The local police dispatch officer doesn't get the answer the phone with five minutes' worth of Bible verses before he takes the 911 emergency information. The police don't get to pull you over to berate you about your Bernie bumper sticker, and tell you you're getting a ticket because he doesn't like your politics.

jaed said...

The rules are different when the government is acting as employer versus when it is acting as sovereign. It can't reach out and through the criminal law punish such speech. But it can regulate the conduct of its employees, including what they say on the job.