Town should be cautious with rules

The Ocean View Town Council, in reply to the findings of a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, will be creating Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) — a group of resident volunteers who wish to assist the police department or other municipal entities.

We’ll forget for a minute that the town once had a group of volunteers who served the police department before the organization resigned en masse in 2008 after what they perceived to be poor treatment by the council. That group, the Ocean View Citizens Auxiliary Patrol (CAP), became embroiled in the political discord of Ocean View at the time — most notably in regards to the council’s relationship with Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin, and a subsequent revision of the organization’s manual by council members.

Well, we said we’d forget CAP for the purposes of this story. But we can’t. And neither can the current Ocean View Town Council. Particularly when it comes to volunteers speaking out against the town.

“We are intensely aware that our citizens have the right to expression and the need to express themselves,” said Ocean View Town Councilman Bob Lawless. “As part of the volunteer program we intend to have a policy that an individual who is serving as a volunteer within the town of Ocean View has a grievance system that we require they follow, prior to a public expression of their disagreement with the department in which they serve.”

So, basically, they don’t want a group of volunteers mouthing off at town council meetings or with public displays.

We get that. It’s important to have a chain of command in any organization. It maintains order and establishes a process. But we also clearly hear what councilman Geoff Christ asked.

“Is this standard procedure,” asked Christ. “Is this the norm? Where do you dilineate a person’s right to express themselves?”

We obviously fall on the side of free speech and expression. Now, we don’t fault Lawless or any of his colleagues for wanting to snuff out another public display that could conceivably wipe out the good will the council has largely been enjoying as of late. Very little looks worse than public complaints that stem internally.

It’s tricky.

But people in this nation have a right to free expression. They have the right to question authority. And they have the right to assemble. Even if they are volunteers.