December 24, 2014 2:14 am ET
County Executive’s remarks on free speech in the 911 scandal go against the legal grain
Source: Freak Out Over Speak Out
The story regarding Baltimore County 911 operator Kelli Murray’s comments on Facebook continues to spread, and the burning question remains about whether her words are protected by the First Amendment regarding the right to free speech.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz made an interesting statement to the Baltimore Sun on the issue when he said: “Individuals are constitutionally protected by the right to free speech, and that protection does not end when someone chooses to become a county employee.”
To be honest, I know of three people who took the free speech matter to the extreme—all three are either in jail or hiding. They are Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange.
Now, I understand that those cases are more serious than Ms. Murray’s police-hating rant on Facebook, but the principal remains the same.
And, regarding his comments, Mr. Kamenetz (who is a lawyer) and should know better, because the Supreme Court has ruled in an opposing fashion in similar cases.
You see, folks, there are two factors you have to consider before making any public statement that is even remotely connected to your job, especially if you work for a government agency. Here is the legalese to provide the context:
“Therefore, if you find yourself, or another member, being disciplined for something you have said or written, to decide if your statements are protected speech, you must determine that:
1) The statements must deal with matters of public concern.
2) Then, even if the matter is of public concern, does that public concern and interest outweigh the interest of your employer in maintaining morale, efficiency, and discipline? “
Here is a link to another benchmark ruling regarding an employee’s right to free speech.
This link goes to the heart of the current issue.
Trust me there will be a lot of people that are interested in how this situation is handled.
Ms. Murray’s Facebook posting was basically a racial rant that did not have substance rooted in statistics or fact. Furthermore, her rant has clearly impacted the morale of the police department, with more than 800 comments posted in response—many calling for swift action to fire Ms. Murray.
No matter which way he rules, Mr. Kamenetz is looking at a tough situation. On one hand, if he chooses to fire Ms. Murray, then surely the NAACP and the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton will come down on the county like a ton of bricks.
On the other hand, if Mr. Kamenetz chooses to take action that falls short of dismissal, it will most likely fuel the outrage of those who felt betrayed by Ms. Murray’s comments. This will cause even more tension to arise from the situation.
In either case, it is clear to this blogger that Ms. Murray cannot return to the 911 center and be effective in doing her job.
So far, other authority figures within the County Government have chosen not to speak up about the issue, even though they are, in fact, fully capable of launching an investigation.
Let me remind you that there are two types of racial discrimination—singling out someone because he/she is of a certain race, and not singling out someone because he/she is of a certain race.
In my next blog a similar situation occurred in the Baltimore County Fire department, and the results of that issue.
Get it? Good.