A split Johnson County Board of County Commissioners voted to reprimand Commissioner Mike Brown Thursday for a message posted on his personal Facebook page last weekend that warned of impending left wing violence and a “coming war.”
In the post, which has since been removed, Brown told his followers to buy firearms and be prepared to defend themselves and their property this election season.
“It is a real fight for control of America… and control of you,” the post read. “Here is another thing that isn’t a joke or hyperbole; I’d rather fight and die than live in their dictated world.”
By a 4-3 vote Thursday, county commissioners approved a resolution that says the rest of the commission doesn’t approve of or agree with Brown’s post. The resolution goes on to say that though the commission supports free speech, the right to bear arms and public safety, “Words do matter. Words that are easily understood to imply that our public safety agencies cannot keep our communities safe should be rejected.”
The resolution was authored by Commissioner Jim Allen, who offered it after Chairman Ed Eilert read his own statement separating Brown’s post from the official position of county government. Eilert said commissioners should “advocate for an approach that supports common ground. This is not the time for creating chaos, confusion, polarization and channels of misinformation.”
Brown’s Facebook post created a “firestorm” of feedback from constituents, Eilert said, with many not sure if Brown’s views were shared by the entire board.
Other commissioners defend Brown
The resolution got pushback from some other members of the commission who voted against it. While emphasizing that they would not have used the same wording, they said that Brown had a right to say what he wanted on his personal Facebook page.
Commissioner Steve Klika said whatever Brown chooses to say should be a matter between him and his constituents in the upcoming election. Brown is running for reelection for his 6th District Commission seat and is being challenged by Shirley Allenbrand.
“I don’t feel like I have a right to reprimand Commissioner Brown,” Klika said Thursday. “He’s got a right to say what he wants, whether we agree with it nor not. I’m not going to sit here and beat up on another commissioner.”
Commissioner Michael Ashcraft also voted against the resolution. He said he was uncomfortable with the idea of a reprimand, and asked Brown for constructive suggestions on how to address those issues with the community.
Brown, who also voted against the resolution, said his words were “twisted” by the Kansas City Star’s editorial board, which published an editorial this week demanding Brown apologize for his post. He also said Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas “took a racist cheap shot at me,” on Twitter, where Lucas called Brown’s post “reckless” and “racist.”
A “slippery slope” warning
Brown said hundreds of people had contacted him supporting the things he said in the post. But he also offered an apology to other commission members for the slew of emails and questions they had to deal with as a result. And he seemed to back away slightly from the tone of his post.
“If I had it to do over would I pick some different words? Would the outcome be different? Perhaps. But I do not regret starting the conversation, because conversation needs to be had. As America, we need to have that conversation. If this post is what did it then this post is what did it,” he said.
Brown also warned that a public rebuke on the commission is “a slippery slope,” and sets a precedent that can “cut both ways.”
Eilert and Allen said the resolution was not an easy decision, and Allen said he offered it with respect. But Eilert said it’s important to be careful of how comments reflect on the rest of the body.
Eilert, Allen, Hanzlick and Commissioner Becky Fast voted for the motion, and Klika, Brown and Ashcraft were opposed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Shirley Allenbrand as a Democrat. Allenbrand is a registered Republican, and races for seats on the Board of County Commission are officially nonpartisan.