Let the Sunshine In (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 12:00 am  

If Jonesboro wants to be perceived as a player in economic development — and an effort by Arkansas State University to create an osteopathic medical school and hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial construction in the last few years indicate it does — then it should consider reining in its “Dukes of Hazzard”-quality police chief, Michael Yates.

The Jonesboro Sun says Yates has taken to vilifying on Facebook one Sunshine Crump, the owner of a memorable byline and the Sun’s police beat and courts reporter before she resigned last week because of the chief’s harassment.

Little Rock lawyer John E. Tull III has complained on the paper’s behalf to City Attorney Phillip Crego. Yates is accused of withholding information from the Sun, in addition to declaring, “I intend to sink that ship.”

Yates, of course, cites his First Amendment rights. However, most folks surely understand by now that though the First Amendment protects most speech from interference by the government, it doesn’t necessarily protect people from other consequences of that speech. Those consequences can include termination of employment if the speaker’s employer finds its employee’s speech offensive or harmful to its interests. And Yates’ employer is the city of Jonesboro, i.e., taxpayers/the public.

The Sun’s publisher, David Mosesso, makes a good argument when he writes, “It’s time for Mayor Harold Perrin to step up. Any other entity would have already fired or suspended an employee who made these types of vindictive comments, and our city department heads should obviously be held to an even higher standard.”

The imbroglio has received national attention — and it’s not flattering. Jonesboro officials should heed Tull’s warning that Yates’ actions could constitute torturous interference with the newspaper. Neither a monetary judgment nor bad publicity advances the interests of the citizens of Jonesboro.



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