The past few weeks have seen unprecedented numbers of firefighters in the headlines over comments posted in social media related to race relations. Sometimes we get so accustomed to speech-related discipline being associated with social media posts, that we forget that non-social-media-related speech can be just as problematic.
Take for example, the decision by Manhattan Beach City Manager Bruce Moe to dismiss Fire Chief Daryn Drum over comments he made at a meeting of regional public safety officials. Chief Drum is accused of saying “Pardon my vernacular… I think our foot … needs to be clearly on their throat, and they need to feel it, and they need to feel that constant pressure every single day that we mean business.”
According to Moe, Chief Drum was referring to negotiations with a vendor in the recording, but given the timing of the comments, coming after the social unrest related to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the remarks were deemed unacceptable. Moe issued a statement saying:
- “We need thoughtful leaders offering voices that are open and inclusive.”
- “Chief Drum’s recent comments do not reflect our core values as a city, and an immediate change of Fire Department leadership is in the community’s best interests.”
Moe also expressed concerns about comments Chief Drum made on a recent podcast. Here is more on that story.
Public employee speech is a challenging topic. High ranking employees who serve in at-will capacities are particularly vulnerable to speech-related scrutiny. While the US Supreme Court has said on numerous occasions, public employees “are not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights,” the reality is there are limits on speech by public employees that would be considered unacceptable if government applied them to the general public.
We will be discussing these issues and more on July 8, 2020 in webinar that covers social media, the First Amendment, and firefighter free-speech rights. Join us for Drafting and Implementing an Effective Social Media Policy. The session delivered last month had 96 attendees. That was May 6, 2020, almost three weeks prior to George Floyd’s death. Events since then have only made the need for this training all the more urgent. We will cover recent cases, the law, and what a fire department needs in terms of policy language to address social media concerns without going too far and violating employee rights. Attendees will receive a model policy and copies of key cases – but more importantly will gain insight into the limits on public employee speech. We can now accommodate up to 500 attendees, and will be holding a special Zoom meeting following the webinar to address any additional questions attendees may have.