(By Lee Melsek) The latest threat to our First Amendment has reared itself right here in our own backyard: Madison and Jefferson would be wearing out their quills with outrage.
George Carlin would be close to coma screaming expletives.
At Fort Myers Beach Town Hall, only the tyrants of the Banana Republics are applauding.
Welcome to a Banana Republic.
Along the island’s yellow brick road of showcased commerce – Times Square – our First Amendment is under assault by a Town Manager who appears to have anointed himself the arbiter of speech. As in free speech. And freedom of expression.
Roger Hernstadt has been relentless to the point of pathological in his attempt to kick Ed and Kim Ryan out of the public square. Their crime: From a table in front of Pete’s Time Out cafe the couple and some of the guests on their Saturday morning one-hour podcasts have been critical of Roger and Mayor Ray Murphy. They’ve called the two public servants hypocrites and scoundrels. They just don’t like them.
That amendment can be a real bitch to thin skinned politicians and their managers.
Roger claims Ed and Kim are a business and therefore not allowed to sit in the public square with their microphone and battery pack criticizing him.
Ed and Kim are not a business. They are simply two citizens expressing their opinion and inviting others to do the same in a public place.
They’ve caused no disturbance, ignited no riot. There are no boom boxes thundering their voices. There are merely orderly discussions by guests promoting their island organizations, public officials explaining their positions on various issues and information on council and committee schedules and town events.
Once willing guests on the podcast talk show, Roger and Ray have suddenly gone dark, ignoring invitations to return and explain their actions at Town Hall, actions that are attracting more of the show’s scrutiny.
Instead, code enforcement officers have been sent by Roger with warnings to Ed and Kim to get out, along with threats of fines. They’ve also threatened the restaurant owner where Ed and Kim sit with their guests often promoting island businesses and encouraging mainlanders to come down to the island and enjoy the day.
Lee County government spends $5 million a year hawking tourists. Ed and Kim do it for free.
The Town Manager wants them out. But at least two of his bosses on the council are lately beginning to wonder if this First Amendment thing just might be pushing them into a corner.
Stop wondering. That corner is getting smaller as the optics of harassing these two critics of your government grow darker.
With one of the island’s papers now long gone and the other too timid to provide bold watchdog journalism, Ed and Kim have filled a void, turning a spotlight on a local government much in need of one.
Good for them. Speak up, talk on.
Lee Melsek is a former investigative reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com