Attempted Censorship or misguided public official?

Real estate assessments – high and low – bring about emotional responses. Local government, and government in general, have an insatiable need for our money. Sometimes, as in this case, the responses are from the public officials charged with assessing property.

I would however request that you immediately remove all inappropriate and misleading information related to the Office of the County Assessor, real property taxes, and the assessment process in Loudoun County from your web site.

Properties are assessed on an annual basis. We get that. Local governments depend on property taxes for the bulk of their budgets. Next year we all – homeowners and governments likely will be dealing with less income.

Maybe this is more chilling because it comes from a public official. This post at real/diaBlog (unfortunately they have deleted part of the post), based in Loudoun County ruffled the feathers of a Loudoun County official who emailed the author demanding that he remove parts of the the post, “or else.”

Coincidentally, I wrote a very similar post earlier this month that generated an off-line conversation that led to the posted clarification. For that clarification, I am grateful, and the post was much better and more informative because of it.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to address disputes.

Making unfounded accusations and distorting others’ words qualifies as the “wrong way.” At no point in any of the emails from Todd Kaufman the Loudoun County Assessor, does he identify exactly what part of the post he found to be “erroneous and misleading.”

This situation goes beyond real estate and real estate assessments and into the realm of trying to squash free speech and open public discourse.

Might (real estate) bloggers be considered journalists?

The Free Flow of Information Act says we might:

(2) COVERED PERSON- The term `covered person’ means a person who is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such person.

(3) DOCUMENT- The term `document’ means writings, recordings, and photographs, as those terms are defined by rule 1001 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (28 U.S.C. App.).

(5) JOURNALISM- The term `journalism’ means the regular gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.

Matthew says:

I wish this agent the best of luck and hope that it works out.  Trying to keep the County Officials in check via a blog is like sticking your finger in a bee’s nest!

I’d argue that trying to keep public officials in check is our shared responsibility and obligation.

Realtors are held to a higher standard due to our shared Code of Ethics; public officials are supposed to be held to a higher standard as well.

This seems to me to be an egregious attempt to control a conversation.  If a clarification or retraction is in order, so be it – ask for that, rather than attempt to intimidate the writer.

As I am nowhere near being an attorney, would the County Assessor’s emails be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request?

Today, Danilo’s broker stands her ground.

I think this story may lead to a much larger discussion about freedom of speech, the NAR Code of Ethics and how they relate to blogs, Broker oversight and just what a Realtor may be permitted to write. If real estate blogs transcend real estate, politics and self promotion – who regulates them if not the laws regarding journalism? Should (real estate) bloggers have to choose between being Realtors or journalists?

More at Bloodhound and 4Realz.

Update 31 December 2007: Bacon’s Rebellion picked up the story, thanks to Ben.

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  1. Greg Swann December 30, 2007 at 16:24

    Journalists don’t have a right to a free press because they’re journalists but because they’re human beings. We do not need to be regarded as journalists to have the right to a free press or any other human right. I’m quibbling, but I think it’s a mistake to get caught up in an argument about credentials. Mr. Kaufman is entirely in the wrong about the right to freely express opinions in the public prints. He should be grateful the days of tarring and feathering are behind us.

  2. Matthew Rathbun December 30, 2007 at 17:54

    I agree with Greg & Jim on their points and that drives me crazy. I think that we all have the right to post our opinions and observations so long as they are not purposefully misleading. My blog is my opportunity to voice my opinion and have others do the same. I think the blog in question was never proven to be wrong. Even if he was, if it’s a mistake than that just happens. As if assessors never make mistakes…. How often do newspapers print corrections? Again newspapers print their opinions all the time, their just more subtle in their approach. I still like sticking my own finger in the bee hive over certain topics, I just think you need to be prepared for the local governments to fight back. Don’t be upset when they call your “mommy” and tattle-tale on you!

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  5. Matthew Rathbun January 6, 2008 at 00:41

    1. Oh… Anonymous comments with a link to a blog where the writer/owner isn’t giving their name… That’s brave and original. I can’t take anyone serious who won’t reveal their name. The poorly setup blog references a slant on spelling and grammar of a letter posted, but fails to fix these issues within their own content.

    I suppose I should be offended that the “anonymous” writer thinks we’re too stupid to figure out who the man behind the curtain may be…

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