Wednesday, October 22, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;50.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ra.png;2014-10-22 05:33:46
Monday, July 21, 2014

Free speech, unintended consequences

Telegraph Editorial

Nashua Alderman Pamela Brown took some heat last week for a Facebook posting in which she referred to Nashua Board of Aldermen President David Deane as “King David.”

“Is this all about taking down the Mayor because 2 Aldermen are planning to run for Mayor in 2015?” Brown said. “She’s our first woman Mayor (YEA!) – are the guys feeling emasculated or ‘neutered’ as Deane put it?” ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

Nashua Alderman Pamela Brown took some heat last week for a Facebook posting in which she referred to Nashua Board of Aldermen President David Deane as “King David.”

“Is this all about taking down the Mayor because 2 Aldermen are planning to run for Mayor in 2015?” Brown said. “She’s our first woman Mayor (YEA!) – are the guys feeling emasculated or ‘neutered’ as Deane put it?”

Brown’s remarks – made on the Facebook page “Nashua, NH Civic Sounding Board” – generated a variety of responses. Some people encouraged her to say whatever is on her mind, while others think she should “stifle,” as Archie Bunker used to say to his wife, Edith, in the TV show “All in the Family.” Still others chided Brown for doing the city a disservice by running afoul of the Board of Aldermen’s Code of Conduct that restricts the things board members can properly say. June Lemen, who writes a biweekly column for The Sunday Telegraph, articulated such a viewpoint in a column that ran yesterday.

The Nashua code contains the standard stuff that everybody can get behind, such as directing board members to treat each other with respect, no cursing, etc. It’s a shame anybody even thought they needed to write those down, and it seems well intended enough.

Then it wanders into a murkier area and states that aldermen aren’t allowed to question the motives of their fellow board members, which is fine on its face but fails to take into account the possibility that board members could ever, in fact, be acting out of motives that ought to be questioned.

Such guidelines are probably somewhat helpful in limiting digressions and keeping a meeting on track, but they are a poor substitute for actual respect among people who are supposed to be committed to working together for the betterment of the city, and they are no substitute at all for honesty, transparency and more debate. Enforced silence almost never is, as the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously noted.

The larger issue for Brown is not whether she has violated the board’s code of conduct, but whether she risks doing her constituents a disservice by lessening the influence she has among her colleagues – she will almost certainly need “King David’s” help at some point in her tenure – who might perceive her tact as unprofessional and beneath the office to which she was elected.

Brown, who has insinuated more than once since joining the board that she has been subjected to gender bias, seems to fall into her own trap by making an unfortunate reference to emasculation in her Facebook posting. She later removed the language, but that’s not nearly as effective as choosing one’s words carefully beforehand, which is one of the things typically expected of elected officials.

We don’t want to see the political climate in Nashua become worse than it already is, but we also recognize that we live in a country where Brown is free to raise all the what-for she wants to in any forum she pleases, and in as coarse a fashion as suits her. The tradeoff is she should recognize that speech that offends her colleagues and constituents may carry consequences – including unintended ones.