Chairman Brown defends his position, freedom of speech

If you read the newspaper last week, you will know there was a unique expression of dissatisfaction with my performance as county commission chairman in 2013. A few people who know us wishes this could been settled behind the scenes, but it is what it is, and I really do not think it would have made much of a difference anyway.

The news media was informed my removal was necessary because I was only able to attend a few of the various Christmas parties held in different departments. That is certainly true as I did have schedule conflicts and work projects that got in the way.

They were told my absence was a sign of “anti-social behavior” and a lack of caring for the employees. Actually, the reason I got behind on some things was due to my days of writing a personal note of encouragement in a Christmas card to each individual county employee and every citizen volunteer who graciously serves on our county boards, authorities and commissions. There are close to 700 people in all, so it ate a lot of my time. I meant no harm in not attending some of the parties.

Another reason for my removal was “anonymous sources” said I was being disruptive in the regional government. However, the sources were never identified for the newspapers and not a single example of anything I had done wrong had been given.

There is not a lot merit to the criticism given, so everyone is asking what this is really all about?

What this entire protest is really all about is some extreme differences on the county’s Water System, whether it was well-run or not. The commissioner and I had grave differences on this subject. I asserted the system was badly broken.

Disagreements are going to happen; it is a fact of life. My position is that I can agree to disagree. Truly, the most important decision we can make is to not allow disagreements to cause us to take reckless actions to suppress opinions and positions we do not like.

It takes extreme courage to allow free and open speech. The human psyche desperately resists voluntary unprotected exposure to criticism. There is a relentless desire to suppress challengers.

Surely, it takes daring to be a lone dissenter in a crowd of powerful people. I have been there before. However, the ultimate show of bravery for people in a position of power, especially those in the majority, whether it be a business, church or government is to allow and promote free and open speech.

Uninhibited speech is radical, which is why countries from China to Zimbabwe heavily limit public (and even private) opinion and criticism. But there is no trust where censorship reigns.

The Communist East German spy agency, the Stasi, was so vehement about controlling thought and criticism that they employed one full-time agent for every 166 East Germans in an attempt to hold the people down.

Some of our astute Founding Fathers knew from history that the only way to guarantee protection from governmental suppression of speech was to embed it an ironclad amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

Speaking to the Fayette Republican Party, U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue said we are stuck with a lousy government we refuse to like because we do not use our right to speak up, asking “Have you written a letter to your newspaper this week?”

It is all right to have differing opinions. Likewise, we should not have to dread retribution if we disagree with someone. As elected officials, we are charged with representing the best interests of the people of Fayette County, conceding the decision of who is right or wrong to the citizens.

Government’s place is promoting freedom of expression, even within the governmental body, and the focus should never be censorship or retaliation.

Commissioner Allen McCarty and I endured two tough years at the beginning of our term where the three-man majority would literally vote to not permit us to present our agenda items at board meetings. They could be terribly cruel. I do want a return to the totalitarian strong-arm ways of the past.

Whether I am elected your chairman or not, my hope is that we can respect the opinion of others, agree to disagree if necessary and keep on moving Fayette County in the right direction without censorship or fear of reprisal.

Steve Brown
Peachtree City, Ga.

[Brown has been the chairman of the Fayette County Commission for the past year.]