Free speech on the line in Garfield County spat

New Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson may have a chance to do something important: stand up for the free speech rights of himself and his colleagues.

Trouble is, he may have to challenge fellow commissioner and fellow Republican John Martin to do so.

Martin last month proposed that the Garfield County Commissioners adopt a resolution to require commissioners serving on outside boards or committees to express only the majority view of the board of commissioners. So a Garfield County commissioner serving on the board of say, Club 20 or Colorado Counties Inc., would be prohibited from expressing his or her personal opinion at those meetings if the personal opinion differed from the view of the other two commissioners.

That’s blatantly unconstitutional, as well as undemocratic.

The board of commissioners cannot adopt a policy that abridges the free-speech rights of its members. Furthermore, individual commissioners are often elected by people who don’t necessarily share the views of the majority of the commissioners. Any policy that prevents their views from being expressed through their elected county representative diminishes democracy.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, the only Democrat on the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, frequently disagrees with her colleagues, especially on issues regarding energy development. And she opposes Martin’s resolution.

But Houpt also said she is careful, when she attends meetings of outside groups, to represent the majority view of the commissioners, as well as her own opinion if that is different. And she makes it clear, in that case, that her personal opinion doesn’t represent the official county position.

We understand that Martin wants to make sure the official county position is presented at meetings of outside boards and committees. But attacking the free-speech rights of his fellow commissioners isn’t the way to do that.

His proposal has stirred a considerable debate in Garfield County, with many people understandably supporting Houpt’s view.

We hope that controversy is enough to make Martin rethink his proposal. If it isn’t, and he continues to push his resolution, then newcomer Samson will be on the hot seat to put free speech ahead of partisan politics and help Houpt kill the measure.


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