Speak Up and Refuse to be Intimidated

CORRECTION: Matt Church was not handcuffed. He said two La Vergne police officers who did have handcuffs out restrained his arms and shoulders and took him out the door. I have edited the opinion below to reflect this.

This is purely an editorial / opinion piece. I want to start by saying that.

I have mulled over and struggled with different articles to write these last several weeks but exhaustion from watching good work being unraveled by a tone-deaf board has – frankly – left me speechless. I can’t help but think that rendering people speechless is the intent of this current administration. They seem to not want to hear opinions that don’t match their own and at least one alderman has publicly called for citizens to stop speaking, especially on social media. Numerous people have reached out to board members – phone calls, emails. And they’ve heard nothing back. Crickets. Sometimes people are left with no other choice but to write on social media.

**Note that I am excluding Alderman Broeker from this opinion piece because he is always responsive to citizens!**

censorshipSo with no calls or emails returned, people are left with writing on social media or speaking at the citizens forum before meetings and workshops are held.

But there’s a huge smell of censorship in La Vergne’s air. What is censorship, exactly? Well censorship is when efforts are made by government to prevent what they view as unacceptable opinions, words, images, etc. from being spoken, published, printed, etc. The key word is “government”… if you write an opinion I don’t like on my site and I delete it, that’s not censorship. Why? Because this is a personally owned page and I have the right to allow or not allow what I want here. I have tried to allow nearly all comments, though. Unless they are personal attacks, lies, or generally offensive. So censorship is when the GOVERNMENT limits your right to free speech.

I haven’t publicly stated this before, but I have direct experience with censorship efforts by this board. When I worked for the city, the mayor told me that Alderman Brown did not like that I was associated with this site. I hadn’t written anything substantive here for about five years (give or take).  But I owned the URL and they did not like that. In an effort to save my job, I gave up ownership of the URL.  In my opinion, that was straight up censorship. (I still haven’t taken back ownership of this site, but I will be doing that shortly.)

I was also accused by the mayor of allowing people who were not city employees to use my computer. I was called in to the H.R. director’s office where she told me that this was a violation of personnel policies and she didn’t “want” to put a camera in my office to watch me, but they might have to consider this. She also told me that the conversation shouldn’t leave that room. I wasn’t having that… do not falsely accuse me of something and then bully me into shutting up about it. Both women the mayor said used my computer wrote letters stating that they did NOT have access to my computer during a Saturday fundraising event.

Censorship. I was not allowed to have ownership in this site and I was threatened with a camera in my office to watch me work.

When I left that job, I felt I regained my voice. But I still use caution with my words because words can have a huge impact. It’s more important for me to be right and accurate than to just spout my opinion. (It really is important for me to be accurate or I wouldn’t have edited to show the correction.)

The appointed alderman (Jones) frequently speaks at meetings during the aldermen comment period that he has issues with social media and people should stop writing their opinions. If people dare speak, he says they are “bullies.”  Yet the volunteer groups of the city had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding stating that members cannot go on social media sites expressing their opinions about city officials. These officials set the budget so they do have the power to withhold funds if they don’t like a group. Censorship through the purse string is still censorship.

And now a candidate for alderman, Matt Church, was escorted out of the board meeting last night (Tuesday, June 7, 2016).  In handcuffs. Restrained. He was escorted out in handcuffs because he exceeded the three-minute time limit to speak to the board. He was calm. He wasn’t yelling. He went over on his designated time. He was told he was banned from city hall.

Here is the city’s YouTube account if you want to watch what happened. As of now (11:30 a.m.), the meeting is not online.

Now we all remember that there were a lot of angry words directed toward the previous administration in very public meetings. People went over their time limit then too, but they were allowed to do so. Former Mayor Senna Mosley said it was to allow them to get it off their chest. And no one – NO ONE – was ever handcuffed restrained.

Is this administration that fearful of the people they serve that they handcuff restrain them, escort them out, and ban them from city hall?

It’s to this that I have found my words again. Because censorship is wrong. Why does this administration not want people to speak? The podium has been moved away from the board table now. People are told not to approach the table where board members are seated. These actions are largely due to Mr. Church previously bringing in samples of what was removed from Mrs. Phillips house and given to board members. (Note his samples were “safe” and not a hazmat threat.). The board voted to pay for remediation of the sewage filled house (which a city engineer confirmed later that the city sewer had major problems) and then they refused to give her the money they had voted to give her. Confusing, I know. And on a side note, I find it interesting they reacted in horror to the samples that were hermetically sealed but were okay with an 80-year old woman living in this raw sewage since November. Living in sewage because of a faulty and/or poorly designed sewer system owned by the city.

In any case, as citizens we must speak out. Find your voice again. It shouldn’t matter that they don’t want to hear your thoughts. When they accepted their jobs, that’s what they signed up for.


**This opinion is my own and in no way reflects that of my employer, family, friends, etc.

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