DELTONA -- A newly proposed Deltona city ordinance designed to promote civility among city employees and elected officials is inspiring some very uncivil responses.
On Nov. 17, Deltona City Ordinance 33-2016 earned harsh criticism from several commissioners at a city workshop. These criticisms even lead Commissioner Brian Soukup to call for the ordinance's author, Deltona City Attorney Gretchen Voss, to resign.
The ordinance is designed to amend the city's code to include a new chapter that enforces rules of civility and to create guidelines by which elected officials and city employees can lodge complaints against one another.
The ruling prohibits the use of disrespectful and/or devaluing language and persistent or extended criticism in front of other people, behavior, actions, conduct or language that is enacted with the intent to frighten, humiliate, belittle or degrade others, which includes raised voices and yelling or screaming.
The ordinance states that before making a complaint against another city employee or elected official, the complainant must submit a written document setting forth a detailed and factual basis for the alleged wrongdoings to the city clerk or the city attorney.
The respondent will then have five days to accept the complaint or reject it, after which the city commission will vote on whether to bring up the complaint at an upcoming meeting or institute a full investigation into its claims.
The penalties for violating the ordinance include censure with penalties for elected officials and disciplinary action against city employees.
“Normally the problem of an unruly officially is solved by a chairperson declaring the official out of order,” Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Florida Record. “It does not usually require its own rules or statutes.”
Simon said that even if the ordinance is left to stand as it was written, it suffers from several problems, including limiting the right to free speech for government officials, vagueness and allows city commissioners to apply penalties to other elected officials and city employees.
“This ordinance leads to several problems involving the First Amendment and superseding the rights of voters,” he said.
Simon pointed to the rules in Deltona City Ordinance 33-2016 that limit how elected officials and city employees can communicate with each other, as representing a major conflict with the First Amendment. The ordinance uses a definition of civility that is far to vague to be effective, he said.
“I think anyone who looks at the ordinance will tell you that there is a very broad definition of what 'civility' means,” he said. “For conduct to be prohibited, you have to have a clear sense of how you can avoid punishment or censure.”
Finally, Simon said that because the ordinance allows for censure or penalties as a consequence of its violation it gives elected officials authority that belongs to voters.
“If an elected official can call for another official's removal, that lends itself to abuse and for that reason, it really is a decision that should be made by the voters," he said. ”In a lot of ways, this looks more like a strategy to remove a troublesome city commissioner than a rule designed to enforce civility.”