Wednesday, April 9, 2008

EDITORIAL: Commissioners Gag Dissent With Taxpayers' Money

At their Tuesday workshop, the County Commissioners agreed to pay three months' salary plus benefits to former county administrator Mark Esterbrook and former deputy administrator Frank Koerber in exchange for their not bringing suit and their agreeing not to "disparage any former or current county employee or official."

To make a financial settlement to avoid litigation is perhaps appropriate. But there can be no excuse in a democracy for public officials preventing former employees from criticizing them.

According to the current edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, the meaning of "disparage" includes "to bring reproach or discredit upon; lower the estimation of," which is one of the most important privileges enjoyed by citizens of a free country.

The right of employees to speak out against perceived inappropriate actions by superiors is essential for protecting the citizenry against despotic government. To pay in excess of $70,000 in salary and benefits in order to stifle criticism amounts to little more than bribery at taxpayers' expense.

NewsLanc calls upon the Commissioners to remove the gag provision from the agreements and to encourage public vetting of appropriate matters of dissent.