Friday, November 28, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Free speech and politics

Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg has demanded the resignation of three civil service commissioners because they participated in the recent mayoral election. Bamburg says the statute that is being used to relieve these three commissioners — two supporters of former Police Chief Gary Sipes and one a supporter of Mayor Gary Fletcher — clearly states that civil service commissioners should stay above politics.

All three commissioners disagree with the interpretation of the law and question the meaning behind it all. Commissioner Bob Stroud — a Fletcher supporter — officially tendered his resignation as soon as Bamburg demanded that he step down. Jacksonville has lost a community leader who has worked for the city for more than three decades as an alderman and on various committees and commissions.

Somewhat more reluctantly, Donnie Farmer, a Sipes supporter, has also turned in his letter of resignation. He has also been active in the community and served on the commission for 20 years.

The mayor himself has said it’s hard to find good people to serve on city panels and now two are on the sidelines. Will either of these two men step forward again to help the city? Probably not, and no one would blame them.

The third commissioner, Jerry Reichenbach, another Sipes supporter, is holding tight to his belief that he did nothing wrong.

Farmer and Reichenbach pushed for a new mayor and were probably not happy that Fletcher won. Both men have done adequate jobs as civil service commissioners, but Bamburg insists they should have stayed out of politics and are no longer impartial civil servants. The case is strongest against Farmer as he is listed as an official of the Sipes campaign on required financial reports.

This year’s mayoral campaign, mostly because of social media, became vicious
and divisive.

Does “working in any official capacity” include donating money, holding signs and telling friends and neighbors to vote for a certain candidate? And does the definition of “political organization” include local-level campaigns?

Bamburg says follow the law, which means staying out of politics. Mayor Fletcher will now appoint at least two new commissioners. Good luck finding people who were neutral in the bitterly fought mayoral campaign.