by Bill Cotterell
Two important traditions that Floridians cherish above most other rights – government in the sunshine, and packing guns – looked like they were headed for a forensic showdown last week in a little Volusia County town.
Fortunately, city officials in DeBary backed down from an earlier decision to close a council meeting in which the mayor was removed from office by a unanimous vote of his four fellow commissioners.
Details of the city’s dirty laundry are not important here. Basically, the town council and some city administrators felt that Mayor Clint Johnson was working like three men. Unfortunately, the three men his service most resembled were named Larry, Moe and Curly.
DeBary, a town of about 20,000 about halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach, sounds like a lively little community. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that, in the run-up to the city council meeting, Johnson posted a social-media note calling his removal a “vendetta” and saying, “I would urge civil discourse! If there is no justice, there shouldn’t be any peace. Shame on the arrogant leadership of our embarrassing town.”
…Interim City Manager Ron McLemore initially posted a notice on the city’s website, saying the commission meeting on the mayor’s removal would be closed to everyone except public officials, lawyers, witnesses, and citizens who had signed up to speak on the agenda. In a note to the newspaper, he cited Johnson’s Aug. 15 no-justice, no-peace comment and a June 21 remark, “calling on all law-abiding citizens in DeBary to purchase, practice and carry a firearm.”
McLemore said that “struck an alarming nerve” with some people.
…The same Republican-run Legislature that can’t seem to leave well-enough alone with the people’s right to know has been ever-vigilant in broadening our access to guns. So maybe it was inevitable that concern about concealed weapons would run up against a public panel’s duty to handle provocative topics – in public.
“If he’s worried about security, then he needs to make sure there are plenty of law enforcement officers on hand,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, told the News-Journal. “They can heighten security by having people open their purses. He (McLemore) can hold the meeting at a facility with a metal detector….”
What the city can’t do, she said, was to tell citizens they can’t go into a meeting of public officials discussing public business, like unseating the mayor. Petersen, an attorney, said she understood what McLemore wanted to do – protect everybody at the meeting – “but he just can’t do it” by excluding non-participants. [READ MORE]