Prior to the opening of a Treasure Island “voter information open house” on Saturday, city resident Ken Weiss spoke to those gathered. City Manager Reid Silverboard told Weiss to stop disrupting the meeting. Weiss refused, citing that he was in a public place and that the meeting had not started.
That’s when Silverboard called the Treasure Island Police Department (TIPD) chief Armand Boudreau. Silverboard did so on an unrecorded line rather than going through dispatch, which is why there is no record of what exactly the city manager said. Boudreau sent two officers to city hall next door.
Silverboard did not respond to our questions and our request for comment. We also sought him at city hall, but city staff told us that he was in a “closed-door meeting”.
The US Supreme Court has laid down the so-called “strict scrutiny standard” for any infringement US Constitutional free speech rights. It is the law of the land.
The standard requires that any infringement be justified by a compelling governmental interest, the infringement must be narrowly tailored, and it must employ the least restrictive means.
Weiss isn’t just any resident. On behalf of his clients, he successfully sued the City of St. Pete Beach over Sunshine Law violations involving its development plan. That city fought and lost two lawsuits and had to pay the legal fees of the plaintiffs. Total cost: over $3 million dollars. Weiss has now sued again over its development plan.
In June, Weiss sued the City of Treasure Island, alleging that the city issued a building permit for the Treasure Island Beach Resort in violation of the city’s setback requirements. That case is pending.
In April, Weiss also sued the City of Madeira Beach on behalf of two clients. That lawsuit alleges that the city violated state statutes by failing to properly advertise changes in city land use regulations and comprehensive plan amendments.
“These town meetings are not designed to attack anyone’s views on any issues”, city commissioner Phil Collins wrote in an e-mail to Weiss when he reported the incident to Collins right after it happened. Collins did not address the specifics of the incident that Weiss has laid out, but asserted that “by your own account it appears that your freedom of speech was anything but restricted.”
“When are you going to stand up for the rights of your constituents?”, Weiss responded. “Obviously, not this time and apparently not ever.”
Collins may be unaware of prohibition on government engaging in actions that have a “chilling effect” on the free exercise of legal rights, e.g. constitutional free speech rights. Beginning with a 1952 US Supreme Court decision, the concept of the chilling effect has “grown from an emotive argument into a major substantive component of first amendment adjudication.” In other words: governments chill citizen rights at their own legal peril.
The incident report shows that two officers were dispatched from TIPD to city hall. The report states that “upon arrival we observed a subject, later identified as KENNETH WEISS, getting into his vehicle and pulling out of a city hall parking spot.”
The report also states that Silverboard had advised Boudreau that he “did not wish for Kenneth to be trespassed, just to leave to property.”
Yet despite being in the process of leaving, and the complainant Silverboard’s desire that Weiss simply leave, the report says that the officers “made contact with Kenneth, who advised he was trying to leave.” The report gives Weiss’ date of birth, thereby indicating that he was asked to provide ID.
Law enforcement must “have a lawful or valid reason for pulling you over.” It is not clear that TIPD officers had that when they stopped Weiss in the parking lot, regardless of whether they knew at the time they stopped him that it was Weiss in the car.
The report says that while the officers were “investigating the activity which brought us there, Kenneth was making political statements regarding the current voting options. Sgt. DeShay did not engage in any political conversation, and once we concluded the investigation we let Kenneth go about his day. No criminal activity was alleged.” What the report did not say is why they conducted an “investigation” at all.
The invitation to the open house said that the event “provides an opportunity to ask questions and have open dialogue with city officials and your neighbors.” Weiss was doing just that: having a dialogue with his neighbors, although of a type or nature that Silverboard obviously objected to.
By calling the police, Silverboard may have created the basis for yet another lawsuit against the city from Weiss, this time with Weiss personally as the plaintiff.
We contacted TIPD with questions about this incident, and will provide them should they provide us any. We also asked Weiss to comment, but received no response.
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship- or boat-borne attackers. Given that pirates commit crimes, it is somewhat ironic that Treasure Island Police Department officers wear shoulder patches with such a criminal on them.
While the imagery is clearly an innocent play on the city’s name in a tourist environment, the city may be the only law enforcement in the nation to celebrate criminals on shoulder patches on its own uniforms. Now if only the city would celebrate the non-criminal act of free speech as well.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.