Friday, March 1, 2013

Reply from Julia Hover-Smoot, SCCBOE, and My Reply

Julie Hover-Smoot replied to my email from yesterday. Below is her email reply, and my reply to the rest of the Board (whom she copied on her reply).

To the Superintendent and Select Members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education,

I am obviously disappointed with Ms. Hover Smoot's response. However, per her request, I have excluded her from this reply. In her short response she made several factual errors I wish to point out, and, oddly, made a mockery of the Brown Act by applying it in such a way as to achieve the opposite of its original spirit. She also chose to ignore the simple and obvious facts I was pointing out (from non-anonymous sources such as court filings), and instead chose to "shoot the messenger" as it were.

Ms. Hover Smoot could not be more wrong about the role of Anonymous Dissent in democracy, and specifically American democracy. The famous blogger Tyler Durden (Zero Hedge) summed it up nicely:

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. it thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation– and their ideas from suppression– at the hand of an intolerant society.

Though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks) anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the United States. Used by the likes of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) [and the founding fathers in the Federalist Papers], we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume. Particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the United States, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech. Like the Economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker--as it should be".

The United States Supreme Court had this to say about anonymous dissent:

"Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all."

Ms. Hover Smoot also seems to be unaware of recent world news, e.g. the events going on in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, where anonymous speech on the Internet is a critical part of the democratic process going on there. 

As for the Brown Act in particular, this law (of course) applies to the actions of elected officials such as yourself, not private citizens. Wikipedia's short description of the Brown Act says it was, "passed in 1953, that guaranteed the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies."

In other words, the spirit of the Brown Act is full public participation by all citizens in democracy. The Internet, as we know, allows participation like never before. The Brown Act, therefore, while not applicable to this situation exactly (a point to make all by itself), certainly agrees in principle with anonymous dissent, and the use of the Internet to further this democratic value.

I hope, therefore, that the remaining members of the Board will not resort to misapplying a set of laws to achieve the opposite of their intent--something with which we are all too familiar here in Los Altos. I hope they can see how important it is for all citizens to be able to participate in democracy without fear and intimidation.

Thank you again,

Joan J. Strong, pseudonym

Email Reply From Julie Hover-Smoot

Dear Ms. Strong,

Democracy cannot survive if the institutions that serve its citizens act on anonymous information and reports. That kind of government belongs in Soviet Russia, North Korea and East Germany before the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Every other single person involved in this matter has stated their name and opinion publicly. They have participated as constitutionally protected citizens -- a protection that is available to you as well. 

Do not contact me again in an anonymous form, It is the antithesis of democracy and a mockery of the Brown Act.

Julia Hover-Smoot
Trustee, Santa Clara County Board of Edication

Sent from my iPhone

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