18 legislators object to free speech by UA chancellor | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 28, 2014

18 legislators object to free speech by UA chancellor

Posted By on Fri, Nov 28, 2014 at 5:01 AM

SPEAK//DON'T SPEAK: Rep. Bob Ballinger wants Chancellor David Gearhart to speak only when he wants him to.
  • SPEAK//DON'T SPEAK: Rep. Bob Ballinger wants Chancellor David Gearhart to speak only when he wants him to.
It's belated but important to note a letter signed by 18 Arkansas legislators or legislators-elect objecting to University of Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart's call for the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce to rescind its resolution opposing the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance, which will be subject of a referendum vote Dec. 9.

Gearhart is an ex officio member of the Chamber Board of Directors. He was not notified of the board vote, though it was represented as being a unanimous expression of support for the resolution by Chamber President Steve Clark. He wrote.

The failure to include all ex-officio members in the discussion contributes to the perception that the board operated under a veil of secrecy and was opposed to any divergent views. Such a perception undermines the ability of the board to demonstrate that it consistently functions within the best traditions of our city which embraces openness and fair play.

Many people favor allowing the citizens of Fayetteville to decide the issue at the ballot box in December, rather than having pressure exerted by the Chamber. If, indeed, the law is vague and too broad, the court system of Arkansas will clarify the law in due course.

This has become a flash point issue for our city. The Chamber should promote harmony and prosperity, not create crisis. This has strained relations among town, gown, and individual citizens. 

I'd written previously about Sen. Bart Hester's threat of economic reprisal against the UA because Gearhart expressed his opinion on the matter. I"d heard others had joined in. This week, KFSM posted a copy of a letter to Gearhart Nov. 17 from 18 legislators. It was written on Rep. Bob Ballinger's stationery. 

The letter said the ordinance was divisive, but not because of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Fayetteville City Council hurt many in the community by passing a poorly drafted ordinance that was provided by an outside group to fix a non-existent problem. As an alumnus of the University of Arkansas and as a legislator, I am disappointed that you involved the University of Arkansas in the public dispute over this issue. The University of Arkansas is an outstanding educational institution in our state, and as such an institution, should stay focused on its mission and not a city council dispute.


Other signers: Andy Davis, Jim Dotson, Charlene Fite, Justin Harris, Jack Ladyman, Mary Bentley, Jana Della Rosa, Laurie Rushing, Donnie Copeland, Robin Lunstrum, Rebecca Petty,  Ron McNair, Karilyn Brown, Bart Hester,Cecile Bledsoe, John Cooper and Jim Hendren. All are Republicans.

Several thoughts:

1) This letter wouldn't have been written had Chancellor Gearhart written a public letter endorsing the resolution.

2) The Fayetteville Chamber dishonestly suggested Gearhart supported the resolution. He was right to set the record straight.

3) The letter is a thinly veiled threat to take retribution against Gearhart and the university for his free speech.

4) Legislators have every right themselves to support or oppose the Fayetteville ordinance. They have every right to send a letter to someone with which they disagree. But they step over the line — and demonstrate a poor understanding of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constittution — when they use their legislative roles to suggest another public employee's ability to speak should be limited by his public employment.

5) The University DOES have an interest in this issue. It has an employment non-discrimination policy. The city of Fayetteville proposes merely to make that a matter of law. 

6) The problem is not non-existent. The 18 need only review the video of the marathon City Council meeting at which victims of discrimination testified. Testimony also included people who openly expressed a desire to be able to legally discriminate in housing, public accommodation and employment.

The not-so-delicious paradox of this legislative pressure tactic is that the university said Gearhart had no response to give to the extortion.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said the “no comment” statement from the university is disappointing. The letter to the chancellor from legislators was written on Ballinger’s House of Representatives letterhead.

Ballinger said Gearhart should explain to legislators his opinion on the issue.

“It feels a little like we are unimportant to him,” Ballinger said.

As a Facebook friend observed to me:

On November 17, 18 Arkansas legislators sent a letter to the UA chancellor telling him to shut up and mind his own business.

On November 24, they complained he'd shut up and was minding his own business.

It would be funny if this and people like Jason Rapert and others in the Republican majority believe this is how government operates. They rule; you shut up. Think I exaggerate? Check Bart Hester's quote.

“The chancellor doesn’t have a comment because he’s on the wrong side of the issue."

There's only one side of any issue. Straight from God to Rapert and them.

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