Even knuckleheads at the County Commission have rights

And no, I’m not referring to Jim Norman

By Chris Ingram

In what should have been a fitting tribute to Admiral Leroy Collins, Jr. at today’s Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners meeting, one angry citizen decided to make it a less dignified affair.

An item of business on the commission’s agenda was consideration of a proposal to name the county’s veterans museum after the recently deceased admiral. During the commission’s public forum which precedes agenda items, several friends and military colleagues of the admiral’s spoke about the type of man he was. Dignified. Caring and kind. A leader. These were the adjectives used to describe LeRoy Collins, Jr. the man.

A handful of other citizens spoke about matters of importance to them regarding code enforcement issues and a few general complaints – all in a civilized manner. Then a citizen whose name I did not catch (ed note -his name is Mark Klutho) but who is apparently a regular at commission meetings and well-known to commissioners, took the microphone to exercise his right to speak to the board about anything he so desired. Said citizen began with a rant about a number of trivial items clearly no one else in the county cared about, before turning his ire to “the military” in general, and then to Admiral Collins. He not only objected to the naming of the museum after the admiral, he went on to make inappropriate remarks about his untimely death, questioned his leadership abilities and service, and behaved in what I can most objectively describe as a belligerent manner.

Acting commission chairman Mark Sharpe quickly implored the man to be respectful and mindful of the fact that his attack on the deceased Admiral Collins was being made in a public forum in which members of his family — including his widow — were present. This didn’t stop the man and he continued his tirade.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita quickly jumped in and also urged the man to show respect and decency, which again fell on deaf ears as he replied with something like, “I don’t have to be respectful to anyone. You can’t make me show respect.” He then uttered something about not feeling it necessary to “show respect to the commission as a whole either.”

Commissioner Sharpe then called for a recess of the meeting for a few minutes to allow Mrs. Collins to leave the room. During the recess several others quietly spoke to the man and urged him to show consideration toward Mrs. Collins and some level of restraint. Not intimidated by the Deputy Sheriff who had come in, the man replied: “You can’t stop me. I am exercising my First Amendment rights.”

And so he was.

The board’s very limited “rules” of conduct for those speaking during public comments suggest that comments “[not be] directed personally against a Commissioner or staff member, but rather at the issues.” During the recess it was pointed out to Commissioners Ferlita and Sharpe that perhaps these rules should be modified to include personal attacks against anyone. Perhaps then the commission would have had grounds to have this fool escorted out of the building. Commissioner Ferlita indicated she would bring the idea to the board for consideration later in the day.

A few minutes later the meeting continued. The man ranted for 30 more seconds and left. Later, Mrs. Collins returned and Commissioner Ken Hagan introduced his proposal to name the museum after Admiral Collins. Representatives from the county’s Veterans Affairs department spoke in favor of the proposal, and Commissioner Hagan invited Mrs. Collins and her eldest son LeRoy Collins, III to speak. They thanked the commission and gracefully returned to their seats. The motion passed 4-0 and so, later this year the county’s veterans museum will be dedicated the Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. Veterans Museum.

The earlier disturbance got me thinking about how the admiral would have reacted to this man’s behavior. I think he would have said something like this, “Well, he’s certainly a character who is exercising his right to free speech" — with a wink and wry smile of course.

Thank God for the patriots like Admiral Collins. People who are willing to fight and risk their lives so some jerk with a mental problem can get up in front of everyone and show us all what a knucklehead he is just because “he can.”

Oh, did I mention this constitutional scholar was wearing a t-shirt with the face of “Curly” from the Three Stooges TV show plastered on it, and underneath Curly’s face it said “Why Soitenly!”? Yep. A grown man wearing a Three Stooges t-shirt at a county commission meeting.

Seriously. This picture was on his t-shirt.

I ask myself, “With citizens like this, is it any wonder why our country is headed down the drain?” Then I think about some of the shenanigans and allegedly illegal activities of  Commissioners White and Norman and can’t help but realize I shouldn’t be surprised that clowns like this guy show up to perform at the circus.

Regardless, the commission couldn’t have honored anyone more deserving in his service to Florida’s veterans than Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr.

Chris Ingram is the president and founder of 411 Communications a corporate and political communications firm, and publisher of Irreverent View. Ingram is a frequent pundit on Fox News and CNN, and has written opinion columns for the Washington Times, UPI, and National Review online. He is the Republican political analyst for Bay News 9, the only 24 hour all news channel in Florida’s largest media market. The opinions expressed here are those of author and do not represent the views of Bay News 9. E-mail him at: [email protected].