I was a County Commission Chairman in another Georgia county. I know that it’s hard for citizens to keep up with what goes on in the politics of a county and the cities within it. It’s equally hard to know who and what to support, and social media is more of a hinderance than a help. I know; I was very often attacked by people who had no facts at all, just ill-informed opinions and accusations.

In this vein, many people in Fayette County are unaware of what took place last year on 4-15-19 at the Peachtree City Council meeting, addressing the basic, commonly accepted American right of freedom of speech under the First Amendment. With a national election looming, now is a good time to review what went on.

Specifically, the City Council agenda had an item on it having the City pay for the legal prosecution of anyone deemed to have defamed a city elected official or employee (via social media and so on). I’ve attached a video for those of you who would care to view the session (facebook.com/watch/live/?v=855357831481326&ref=watch_permalink).

The meeting was heavily attended, young and old, liberal and conservative. Even the state ACLU was there.

Mayor Fleisch and Councilman King (a retired high-ranking military officer) were obviously in favor of the motion to approve the resolution. They defended it very vigorously.

However, the numerous public comments were overwhelmingly negative. In fact, I don’t remember any citizen supporting it.

Arguably, the most interesting part of the session was when the ACLU legal director rose to speak. He was soundly booed by some of the more radical members of the audience before he said a word.

The ACLU lawyer then talked about the Constitution. He spoke about how authoritarianism starts with restricting free speech. By the time he completed his forceful and pointed comments, he was loudly cheered by everyone, including the right wingers.

The City resolution was ultimately defeated 5-0 by a City Council obviously concerned with their political future as much as (more than?) the Constitution. After the vote, no one would take responsibility for having placed it on the agenda. No surprise.

I know the City Manager, a very competent man, who works for the Council. As a former elected official, I know that the city manager issues the agenda, but it has to first be reviewed and then approved by the mayor. And it is only common sense that the mayor would not place it on the agenda unless one or more councilmen had expressed some support for the idea.

So, why was this clear violation of free speech proposed to start with? In my view, it transcends local politics. Over the last four years, we have entered a political era in which politics has become more important that the Constitution.

President Trump has stated, “When somebody’s President of the United States, the authority is total,” and he obviously believes that outrageous lie. He believes that he can usurp Congresses Constitutional authority to legislate and just issue imperial Executive Orders declaring how money will be spent. Thus, Trump’s reallocation of military funds to his pet “wall” project and his recent financial actions bypassing Congress on pandemic relief funds.

He also has stated multiple times that he has full and unlimited immunity from prosecution while he is President. And, despite the Supreme Court ruling against him, that is the reason he continues to give to block release of his tax returns to the NY prosecutors investigating him. (thehill.com/homenews/administration/506539-supreme-court-grants-ny-prosecutors-access-to-trumps-tax-returns)

In my view, Trump’s view of the Presidency as a monarchy has been passed down to local governmental officials who view their power as limitless. Those who oppose them should be sued.

Thank goodness for the good citizens of all stripes who showed up at the PTC Council meeting last year. And, thank goodness for the ACLU, standing up for the Constitution, regardless of politics.

Jack Bernard, a retired SVP with a large national healthcare firm, has worked extensively with hospitals across the nation regarding cost containment and insurance. He was also the first Director of Health Planning for Georgia.