Man, did HeraldStandard.com get under the skin of Uniontown police chief Jason Cox, with its Dec. 7 editorial “Shame on mayor,” which you can read it its entirely here:
The newspaper took Mayor Ed Fike to task – and rightfully so – for his unilateral imposition of a two-minute speaking limit for council member to address, of all things, the city’s 2013 budget. In so doing, it described as “heavy handed” Cox’s intervention as a lawman when councilman Gary Gearing proceeded to exceed Fike’s two-minute rule with his comment.
Said the newspaper: “Suggesting that council members have a time limit is one thing, having the chief of police step in and play time cop is another thing altogether. Need we remind Fike that being mayor is not the same as being a dictator. And Cox isn’t Fike’s personal servant. Cox works for all the residents of Uniontown, including Gearing. He’s supposed to dispense justice evenhandedly not siding with one public official over another one.”
It would be ridiculous to limit members of the public to two minutes of speaking time, let alone a duly elected member of council. Like Gearing or not, regardless of his motives or the validity of his comments, he has a right to be heard. The public will decide if his comments have merit, if he’s merely grandstanding, or if he’s a candidate for the loony bin. But it’s not up to Fike to arbitrarily and severely limit how much he can say, or how many questions he may ask.
It is impossible for any member of council to address something as complicated and far-reaching as a city budget, in less time that it takes to hear your favorite song on the radio.
Enter police chief Cox, who submitted his own rebuttal commentary, “Police chief defends actions at meeting,” Dec. 7 (we couldn’t find it online, by the way, which leads us to wonder if that’s because it prominently took aim at editor Mark O’Keefe).
Cox bristled at the notion that anyone would imply that he is a “heavy-handed time cop” or a “personal servant” of Fike. A main bone of Cox’s contention is that O’Keefe, whom he portrays as the author of the editorial, wasn’t even at the meeting to view firsthand what transpired.
Well, O’Keefe wasn’t in Dallas when Oswald shot JFK, either – but that doesn’t mean he can’t formulate an opinion on the assassination of President Kennedy.
Cox claimed to have been at the meeting as a department head, one who it just so happens does not leave his badge or his authority at the door when the meeting begins. He said he works directly under the mayor, and was only fulfilling Fike’s directive to bring order to the situation.
If his Marshall Matt Dillon skills were necessary to defuse a volatile situation, we’d like to know why Gearing wasn’t charged with any crime. Is speaking more than two minutes at a public meeting something that could land a councilman in the hoosgow? Was Gearing disturbing the peace? Making terroristic threats? Engaging in disorderly conduct?
Cox may have just been doing his job and following the boss’s orders, and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that count. But that does nothing to alter the point of the editorial, which is that it doesn’t look good when one elected official tries to muzzle another, or when the police chief gets involved as enforcer.