La Porte County Auditor ordered to 'Have a seat' during public comment
LA PORTE COUNTY, Ind. - La Porte County Auditor Tim Stabosz wanted to bring up issues he had with the County Commission's reassignment of Commissioners to the Redevelopment Commission at a meeting Wednesday morning. He approached the podium to speak during the public comment section with a statement he planned to read during his three minutes of speaking time. Less than a minute into his speaking time, County Attorney Shaw Friedman interjected.
"...with regret, instead of misrepresenting it as the fault of an errant pen," Stabosz said.
"Mr. President, may I interrupt for a second? I believe this violates..." Friedman interrupted.
"I'm a little confused as to why I'm being interrupted during my public comment," Stabosz said in response.
"Because it violates section seven of the policy of this board which is 'remarks by any persons addressing the board which reflect adversely upon the character or motives of any other person or group are out of order. I'm simply pointing out to you..." Friedman responded.
"I'm reporting facts that occurred in the commission meeting," Stabosz said back.
"I understand that Mr. Stabosz," said Friedman.
Friedman said he felt Stabosz was about to make defamatory statements against both the County Attorney and Commission Board President Richard Mrozinski who intervened and supported Attorney Friedman's declaration of Stabosz being in violation of Public Comment rule seven which states "Remarks by any persons addressing the Board which reflect adversely upon the character and motives of any other person or group are out of order." One county commissioner, Joe Haney, objected to the ruling.
"I've moved to overrule the chair on this to allow Mr. Stabosz to finish his three minutes of public comment," Haney said.
"Yeah well, you're not getting it," President Mrozinski replied.
"I'm sorry. What did you say, Commissioner?" Haney said back.
"I said you would need three votes to make a motion," said Mrozinski.
"To pass, I would need two. I've made the motion," Haney clarified.
"Have a seat," Mrozinski said back to Auditor Stabosz.
"Point of order. There is a motion on the floor," Haney insisted.
Haney's motion went without a second which allowed Mrozinski's order for Stabosz to have a seat to stand.
Haney said the ruling was "an appalling suppression of speech." He and Auditor Stabosz agreed he was not in violation of any public comment rules when County Attorney Friedman first insisted he was.
"Watch my comments," Stabosz said. "I said nothing that was offensive, but the people that came after me are quoted as saying 'we are tired of being lied to' and one of them referred to the president of the commission Mrozinski as a backstabber. The next person referred to President Mrozinski as politically unethical. I didn't make any of those types of loaded things. So, how could they allow those comments to stand, but shut down the county auditor?"
Stabosz and Friedman have had disagreements in the past. Stabosz disapproved of Friedman's hiring as county attorney, a stance he has made known to Friedman and the public. Stabosz said because of that Friedman's interruption of his speaking time and rules violation declaration was a conflict of interest.
Friedman said the interruption was necessary.
"Mr. Stabosz wanted to get up and try to put into the record the same kind of defamatory statements he's posted about me on Facebook for the last two months that no credible radio station or newspaper will print."
At least one local newspaper, the Regional News had published Stabosz's comments before.
"There's no first amendment right to get up and defame someone, and my personal attorneys in South Bend are preparing a lawsuit to be filed next week against the auditor regarding these Facebook posts that we have repeatedly made demand that he take down," Friedman said.
Commissioner Haney said this all could have been avoided if the County Commissioners had more adequate public comment rules.
"We'll be working on making revisions to these public comments," Haney said. "Hopefully, my fellow commissioners will be willing to adopt some new rules that will maintain a sense of decorum in these meetings but also allow people their guaranteed right to redress government."
Commissioner Haney said Friedman has threatened to sue Auditor Stabosz before, but never has. So, he said he is not sure how serious Friedman is about filing suit next week. When asked about what specifically Friedman thought Stabosz was going to say when he cut him off, Friedman said it would all be laid out in the lawsuit next week.