In the period euphemistically characterized as “citizen participation” at Croton’s village board of trustees evening meeting on April 21, Kevin Davis, 18, made a reference to this being the period known as Passover. He then asked Mayor Gregory Schmidt and the trustees a series of questions keyed to numbered matzos in a box of matzos he handed to board members. The questions precipitated a heated exchange between the Mayor and Mr. Davis, during which the mayor’s voice rose increasingly higher, sounding more like a coloratura soprano the more excited he became. Maria Callas would have been envious of his range.
First, we want to make clear that Crotonblog holds no brief for Kevin Davis’s unfortunate introduction of a religious holiday and religious symbolism into a purely secular discussion. Mr. Davis is a young man with laudable aspirations to political activism. Unfortunately, he has not yet learned the wisdom embodied in the well-known Madison Avenue maxim called “the KISS Principle.” (“Keep It Simple, Stupid” is what the acronym KISS stands for.)
And, to give the devil his due, Mayor Schmidt was in the right in declining to submit to a finger-pointing interrogation of him and the members of the board of trustees about their participation in an activity called “ghostwriting.” Properly speaking, a ghostwriter is someone who writes a literary work for another, usually for money or other consideration, and who yields claim of authorship to that other person. Quite frankly, we do not know where Mr. Davis was going with this line of questioning, although we believe it was an attempt on his part to get one or more of the Republican trustees to admit to posting messages anonymously on the NCN chat room that masquerades as a blog.
The Right to Speak Publicly
Traditionally, the period known as citizen participation has been reserved for citizens to offer comment on local issues at public meetings. Mr. Davis was not the first person to attempt to cross-examine board members. The names of Joann Minett and Richard Pellicci spring to mind here as past offenders. But he was the first to elicit a response so irrational and so out-of-control as to border on the psychopathic. If such irrational outbursts continue in future meetings, perhaps, in addition to a village attorney, the village may well need the services of an alienist to certify the mental competence of the mayor before each meeting.
Mayor Schmidt launched into a vehement attack on Mr. Davis as an occasional commentator on Crotonblog and also attacked one of its founders by name. But he was so unfamiliar with Crotonblog, a publication that was begun in 2005 and which the mayor claims not to read, that he had to seek help in identifying the name of one of its principals. An inevitable question is how can the mayor have such strong condemnatory opinions of the content of a publication he so adamantly refuses to read?
Mayor Schmidt’s Astonishing Ruling
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Schmidt made an amazing statement referring to the earlier exchange with Mr. Davis. It revealed his abysmal ignorance of the principles of freedom of speech and expression embodied in the Bill of Rights, a part of the greatest single document in the history of the world: The Constitution of the Unites States of America. So that there can be no doubt about the dimensions of his ignorance, we reproduce below a transcript of that remarkable comment. It was preceded by a nervous laugh:
“Tonight we had a little (ahh) discussion here tonight with someone at the podium. (ahh) I don’t usually do that, but I just find that sometimes we’re being assaulted here, and I do take great umbrage with somebody who participates in the Crotonblog, which again is owned by Ross Weale in this community.
“His name should be known in this community. His name is not known out there, and (ahh) if you are going to participate in that blog and destroy this community, I’m not sure that you really can come here and criticize us (emphasis ours) for the work that we are doing that we’re doing positively to make this community an even better community than you are out there.
“That blog is doing nothing but criticizing people. It is driving people away from the process here. We are very concerned that people will not volunteer for committees. People may not even step up to the plate to run for office because of what that blog can do to you personally, and many of these trustees up here can vouch for that and former trustees that I think that the biggest thing that is going to destroy this community and is destroying this community.
“I can say that with fact and it is in the process of destroying this community, and it’s not something I’m going to tolerate any more. And I stand here firm on that. So, if you want to come to me and talk to me about that, you’re not going to come to this podium and talk to me about that.” (emphasis ours) Loud tapping of a pencil on the tabletop punctuated the latter points.
Our Fascist Mayor
We could hardly believe what we were hearing. In A.D. 2008 in these United States, the mayor of the village of Croton-on-Hudson had just arbitrarily established rules for screening citizens before they would be allowed to speak at public meetings—a veritable litmus test of political correctness: No persons will be allowed to speak if they offer comments or contributions or otherwise participate in Crotonblog.
How does this restriction differ from Mayor Schmidt ruling that you can only speak if you are not a Roman Catholic? Or a Methodist? Or a Lutheran? Or a Jew? Or even an agnostic or atheist or freethinker? Or read certain books that displease our mayor? If there ever was a justification for anonymity on the Internet, Mayor Schmidt’s statement was it. The $64,000 question that remains is: How does the Mayor propose to screen and identify anonymous contributors to Crotonblog?
The Role of Investigative Journalism
Crotonblog admits that, in keeping with a proud journalistic tradition, earlier this year we did indeed launch an investigation in public documents of the past actions and words of persons who were candidates for public office and who, as it turned out, were either ethically and morally challenged or were totally unqualified for the posts for which they had offered themselves as candidates. Yes, Mr. Mayor, you can bet your bippy that anytime either party attempts to run candidates like Joe Streany and Joanne Minett, Crotonblog will dig into their pasts and expose their inadequacies—as is our right to do.
If Crotonblog’s investigative activities discourage future unqualified candidates from running, then the citizens of the village of Croton-on-Hudson will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Our efforts to make sure that the best and the brightest talents available among its citizens serve Croton can only be described as a laudable. And, just to let you know, Mayor Schmidt, that we mean business, like it or not, we’ll continue to shine the same harsh light of investigative journalism not only on those who wish to serve but on incumbents like yourself who put themselves and their records before the public in a bid for reelection.
Crotonblog’s Own Little Zinger for Mayor Schmidt
His total disregard of the principles upon which this great nation was founded is bad enough. But the libel expert we consulted opened our eyes to another transgression by the mayor in his statements. For the benefit of readers, slander is defined as oral communication of false and defamatory statements that can be injurious to a person’s reputation. If the statements are made in a fixed medium, then the defamatory statements become libel. Mayor Schmidt’s slanderous oral statements, of course, were recorded in several fixed media—namely, the transcribed minutes of the board meeting, and the recording of the meeting on tape and other fixed media that make these same offensive slanderous remarks—available to anyone with access to Channel 78 on TV and the village’s own website—libelous.
It so happens that in addition to slandering or libeling a person, there are two areas of defamation called “product slander” and “product libel,” and both are actionable. We would remind Mayor Schmidt that Crotonblog is a product, and he has libeled it. The only defense against the charge of libel is the truth—but the responsibility for proving the truth of defamatory statements devolves upon the person charged with libel. It’s going to be interesting to watch Mayor Gregory Schmidt squirm in his attempt to prove the truth of his ill-considered, wild-eyed statements.
A Parting Shot
Former Vice President Dan Quayle who had regular run-ins with reporters once remarked, “Never get in a fight with someone who buys printer’s ink by the barrel.” Crotonblog would amend that advice to Mayor Schmidt to read: “Be careful about getting in a fight with a publication that buys space by the gigabyte, and can reach the farthest corners of the globe at the speed of light.”
And before you shoot off your mouth again, Mayor Schmidt, Crotonblog suggests that it would be a good idea for you to brush up on your knowledge of how and why the founding fathers created the freedoms under which we live and prosper. Your words make a mockery of the sacred principles many have bled and died to preserve since this nation broke away from Britain more than two centuries ago. Crotonblog is grateful that Mayor Schmidt has at last revealed his true colors. It turns out that they are definitely not the red, white and blue of Betsy Ross’s flag. And, speaking of flags, his words belie the “liberty and justice for all” promise in the pledge of allegiance with which he so hypocritically opens each public meeting of the village board.