In 5 to 2 vote, Craven County approves ‘speech-squelching’

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George Liner

By Guy Ferrante | NEWS OPINION

NEW BERN – The county called ‘Craven’ could hardly have been better represented by the Chairman of its Board of Commissioners, George Liner, on Monday night, April 1.

Liner bragged, in his own words from his own mouth, that being Chairman gave him a lot of power. He then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what an abuse of that power looks like.

I’ve never seen anything like it – even after 40-plus years in Washington, D.C.!


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The County Compass for the week of March 28 to April 3, 2019, bore this banner headline: “Craven County officials drive stake thru Heart of Free Speech.”

At issue was Pastor Ray Griffin being berated and silenced for using the words “Muslim” and “democrat” when speaking at a public Board of Commissioners meeting on March 18. Liner denied doing any such thing. And the County Attorney offered spin about Pastor Griffin not being “prohibited” from saying anything. In his esteemed words:

Rather, the Chairman was attempting to prevent the speaker from violating the Board’s rules of procedure involving public comments. The rules prevent repetitive comments [at the same or different meetings], discourteous comments and personal attacks during the public comment period. We believe this particular speaker was violating all these provisions of our Rules of Procedure.

The video is readily available at HERE or on Facebook or YouTube for those who like to do their own thinking.

The lunacy of the County’s explanation about the March 18 meeting is found in the April 1 meeting itself!  The first item on the Agenda was “Amendment of the Board of Commissioners’ Rules of Procedure: Rule #10 Public Comments.”

In short, the Board held a public meeting on April 1 to consider amending its Rules of Procedure to add the limitations and restrictions that Pastor Griffin was accused, convicted and punished for violating two weeks earlier. How stupid are we supposed to be?

At the April 1 meeting, an assortment of citizens rose to speak in near-unanimous opposition to the oppressive and unenforceable provisions being proposed. Without getting into specifics, suffice it to say that they ran the gamut from the undefined subjectivity of what is “insulting,” whose notion of “decorum” matters, what comments are “belligerent or hostile,” when comments are “repetitive” of other comments during that or earlier public sessions, all the way to the freedoms of speech, religion, and right to petition the government — guaranteed by the U.S.

Constitution.

Two commissioners, Bucher and Jones, spoke in opposition to the speech-squelching amendments being proposed.

When Chairman Liner took the floor, he protested that the amendments merely enforced rules that have been “on the books” for at least the past 11 years! This is when questions starting popping in my little head. What “books” have the rules always been on? Why does the County need to amend the rules if the rules are already there? Why are we having this meeting and what are we doing here if the rules already exist? So, I quietly and politely raised my hand to ask for clarification.

Chairman Liner wasn’t having any of that. He summarily shut me down without answering because I had my chance to speak, and now it was his turn. I guess that’s what he meant about having power.

So while purporting to justify rules to prohibit the “attack or insult [of] any person” and forbid “belligerent or hostile comments,” he launched into a fierce personal tirade against the citizen whose County Compass article motivated the April 1 meeting in the first place. Castigation and lambasting of that citizen was rampant, an went on longer than the three minutes afforded commoners like him and me.

The only words carefully not used were that citizen’s name, but that is the kind of juvenile game that cowards routinely hide behind. Words like hypocrite and authoritarian don’t come close to describing Chairman Liner’s performance, the video of which is also available on-line.

I do not know the fate of the proposed amendments to the Board’s rules, nor do I particularly care. Not being one who takes kindly to lectures and grandstanding from people who work for me, however, I left the meeting when my question was ignored. What I do know is that Chairman Liner mentioned that he favors term limits and does not intend to run again for commissioner.

Do the rest of us a favor, sir. Don’t wait for your term to expire. Walk away now, before you do serious harm to our county.