Lion of Liberty plays age card; Second Ward's Thornhill growls
COLUMBIA, 6/9/11 (Beat Byte) -- How to use monies forfeited during criminal investigations appears on the Columbia City Council's Monday agenda and has been the subject of an ongoing battle between a Kansas City-based asset forfeiture reform group, the Columbia Police Department (CPD), and Second Ward City Council representative Jason Thornhill.
A Sunshine Law request from Americans for Forfeiture Reform executive director Eapen Thampy (above left) late last month for "all records of the creation, activity, and updating of the Facebook page titled Columbia Missouri Police Department" is the latest development in the dustup, which started over what else -- a Facebook page.
No Council for Old Men
Thampy's forfeiture reform group -- and a local liberty advocacy movement that has opposed downtown surveillance cameras, supported First Ward City Council candidate Mitch Richards, and recently scolded his opponent, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt -- has been defending a poll question on the CPD Facebook page asking viewers what they thought the police department should feature on social media.
A second, Columbia-based liberty advocacy group, Keep Columbia Free, posted the option: "An accounting of asset forfeiture funds," which went on to become the #1 most requested CPD Facebook feature.
But CPD public information officer Sergeant Jill Wieneke removed the option on April 29, sparking an outcry that has lasted for a month.
The forfeiture fund option "was erased without comment," Thampy emailed the Columbia City Council and reporters from the Columbia Daily Tribune and this publication. "To my knowledge, no one used profanity or said anything inappropriate, and asking CPD for an accounting of asset forfeiture funds is not unreasonable. We understand CPD has their own vision about their outreach efforts. However, this vision should not stand in the way of showing respect to us humble taxpayers when we request transparency in government."
A few days later, on May 2, Thornhill (above right) disagreed.
"I don't see Facebook as the appropriate channel for that sort of request, and suspect the CPD didn't intend it for that purpose," Thornhill emailed Thampy. "I would encourage you and/or your group to seek out any requests for information (be it an accounting of asset forfeiture funds or anything else from the department) through regular municipal channels."
"I urge you to consider that when municipalities engage in social media, those channels become regular municipal channels," Thampy replied May 6.
Then, things got testy. "If your generation is uncomfortable with this, I am sorry," 20-something Thampy emailed Thornhill, who is about 10 years older. "There is nothing that you can do to slow the march of progress, and it is in your best interest to adapt accordingly."
"While you are clearly an intelligent and well-spoken young man, it is in your best interest to stay clear of personal jabs," Thornhill retorted. "Not once in any of my interactions with you...have I taken the opportunity to assert something about the group or 'generation' that you represent that became personal in nature. It serves no purpose in what we do. Rather, it minimizes the seriousness with which you and your points are to be considered."
The Cost of Freedom
An exchange between Thampy and Wieneke a few weeks later became testy when Wieneke said that gathering documents to fulfill the Sunshine Law request would cost Americans for Forfeiture Reform $289.17, billed at $27.92/hour.
"The poll constitutes a petition protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is a public record governed under our Sunshine Law," Thampy emailed Wieneke. "A violation, as you are aware, carries a civil penalty."
Despite the dustup, Thampy's request yielded the desired result.
"I have located records pertaining to your request regarding yearly totals of forfeiture funds (2007-present) and specific information about uses of forfeiture monies/equipment," Wieneke emailed him. "These records totaled 58 pages."
Thornhill also had the last word.
"It is actually laughable that you suggest that 'my generation' is uncomfortable with the usage of Facebook for social media and the like," he emailed Thampy. "Perhaps you are unaware of my age - I'm not 75."
(Thornhill was in his late 30's last this writer checked).