DELTONA -- A newly proposed Deltona city ordinance designed to promote
civility among city employees and elected officials is inspiring some
very uncivil responses.
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
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.
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.
penalties for violating the ordinance include censure with penalties
for elected officials and disciplinary action against city employees.
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.”
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.”