As offensive as many found them, Supervisor Ally Miller’s Facebook comments expressing pride in her whiteness did not violate county policy and are not grounds for censure or any other discipline from the county board.
That’s according to several privileged legal opinions provided by Deputy County Attorney Andrew Flagg, which the supervisors voted to make public Tuesday.
Miller wrote from her personal Facebook account several hours after an apparent white supremacist drove a vehicle into a crowd of counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia in mid-August, killing a woman. Miller wrote, “I’m sick and tired of being hit for being white ... It is all about making us feel like we need to apologize. I am WHITE-and proud of it! No apologies necessary.”
Board of Supervisors policy requires all county employees to be “professional, respectful, fair, unbiased, honest, civic-minded, service-oriented, and fiscally responsible,” but only “while acting in their official capacities and in the discharge of their duties.”
In Flagg’s view, Miller’s weekend post from her private account “appears to be an expression of her personal opinion.” Additionally, the relevant county policy “applies to workplace conduct, and Supervisor Miller’s comment was not workplace conduct,” Flagg wrote.
As to whether her colleagues on the board can nevertheless censure her for her “private speech,” it was Flagg’s opinion that they have “no clear authority to do so.”
“I think our First Amendment rights and our rights to free speech are alive and well,” Miller said after the meeting. “I’m very pleased with the county attorney’s opinion.”
The board could adopt a resolution regarding the comments as long as it does not “purport to discipline her in any way,” Flagg said.
While acknowledging there was little the board could do in response to the comments, Supervisor Sharon Bronson said Miller should still have apologized.
Though shielded from formal sanction, a number of people harshly criticized Miller during the call to the public Tuesday, including one who pledged $10,000 to an effort to unseat the District 1 supervisor.
“It takes no courage to be white,” written comments from Darsha Stockton Doran, who said she previously voted for Miller, read. “Life hands out skin color.”
“You can have German pride, you can have Irish pride, you can have Lithuanian pride,” said Najima Rainey, a member of the local Black Lives Matter chapter. “You can have all kinds of pride, because those are cultures that have actual cultural traditions and rituals and identities. But when you say I am white and proud, what you are saying is I embrace a designation of superiority.”
But Miller was not without defenders. While not weighing in on the comments themselves, Christopher King said it was “reprehensible” that there was even consideration of censure for private comments.
“The First Amendment protects everybody’s right to free speech, regardless of whether you like the information,” he said.