Dirk Vanderhart of the Springfield New-Leader published an on-line link to the "dressing down" of Circuit Clerk Steve Helms at his Web log yesterday.
Coonrod was upset about a letter Helm's wrote to the editor of the News-Leader. In the letter, Helms took a position in opposition of the 1-cent sales tax the City of Springfield will place on the election ballot in early February, 2009.
The dispute between Coonrod and Helms came close on the heels of controversy regarding letters written by assistant City Attorney Duke McDonald. Some members of the community are calling for McDonald to be fired because he wrote letters to the editor expressing his views regarding homosexuality, while others defend him.
Helms pointed out that he had not signed the letter as the Circuit Clerk but the News-Leader had added his position, internally. At issue is an elected or city/county/state employee's right to exercise free speech, as a private citizen, in the public arena.
Coonrod, apparently, doesn't feel Helms has such a right. After an exchange in which the Circuit Clerk inquired whether he has given up his right to offer an opinion regarding the running of the City, Coonrod replied, "Yes, you do (give up your right). Yes, you do. It says here (in the News-Leader), you're the Circuit Clerk. In my opinion, you do."
Coonrod went on to state:
"You're not getting it. It doesn't matter even if you do state...you can state, at the very start, 'I'm writing this letter not as the Circuit Clerk of Greene County but, I'm writing this letter as a citizen of Greene County, or Springfield, or whatever you are,' you're still a Circuit Clerk."
Helms' response referred to, as the News-Leader reported, Coonrod's dismissal of Helms' opinion regarding the City's handling of the police fire pension fund, due to Helms' past bankruptcy filing:
"You (Coonrod) can say, 'You can't say anything because you made a mistake.' I think I have as much right as anybody because I'm pointing out mistakes that are currently being made," Helms replied.
Though the voice of the judge speaking in response to Coonrod's attack on Helms is not identified in the recording, the News-Leader indicated it was Associate Circuit Judge Dan Imhof who responded to Coonrod's attack on Helms:
"You're never going to see me writing a letter to the editor, I'm not going to ever do it. He's (Helms) elected on a partisan ticket, he's an independent office holder, he's got a constituency that goes beyond just people going to the Circuit Clerk's office, you know. It may be wise or unwise for him to write letters like that and I can understand your concern but, I'm not going to try to censor him."
I thought I'd add my opinion to the mix. I think Duke McDonald and Steve Helms both have the same free speech rights as any other citizen. I also believe that employees of the City of Springfield should be able to discuss their political views without the threat of firing by the City.
A young Constitution Party candidate who ran for a congressional seat in the November election found himself faced with deciding between running for the seat or losing his job with the City. Under Section 6.11. Prohibitions, a City employee is restricted in their political activities, and there is plenty of wiggle room, in some areas of the section, for interpretation regarding the enforcement of that section.
Section 6.11 was used to force Travis Maddox to either give up his run for Congressman Roy Blunt's seat or give up his job, Maddox chose the latter.