Waynesville attorney didn’t deserve firing
The Waynesville town attorney serves at the pleasure of the board. Elected officials can fire or terminate him for any reason they see fit.
That said, I think Waynesville’s town officials overreacted and made a mistake in terminating the contract of town attorney Bill Cannon, cowering to a well-known right-wing activist and those who spoke the loudest instead of standing up for someone who did his job and, in doing so, pissed some people off.
And here’s a question for those town leaders and, perhaps, some of those who complained about Cannon: was he fired for his Twitter comments, or was he fired because people complained about them? It’s an important distinction.
If it’s the former, perhaps Waynesville human resource managers should begin scouring the social media accounts of all employees who share their political and social views online. If it’s the latter, well then, pity the town employee whose opinions earn the wrath of those who like to speak at public meetings and get the ear of the elected leaders.
So here are the facts. Among Cannon’s duties as town attorney is presiding over public hearings (whether that should be the job of a hired employee — like Cannon — versus an elected official is certainly worth considering. Employees will more likely make “speakers” follow strict rules, politicians will more likely give “voters” leeway and perhaps bend the rules.).
In presiding over contentious public hearings about Waynesville’s approach to the homeless population, Cannon saw it as his responsibility to keep comments focused on the issue and not let anyone attack another group or individual. That earned him the wrath of one of the groups, and subsequently members of that group began criticizing Cannon’s comments on his Twitter account (which at the time had a grand total of 39 followers).
This is what Cannon told me via email: “The Town and I found ourselves caught in a battle between two organizations over the best approach to dealing with homelessness in Waynesville. One of the organizations attempted to use the public hearing time at Town meetings to fight their battle, focusing on another group rather than providing the Board of Aldermen with information relevant to its business. When some of them did not like my attempt to keep the comments related to Town business, they chose to attack me personally as a means of striking out against the other organization.”
The Twitter account that provoked so much ire from what many now refer to as the woke crowd — those who take on the role of sniffing out social injustice and stamping it out — didn’t like Cannon’s references to some on the right as bigoted, racist and therefore dangerous to our democracy. So they chose to “cancel” him.
Sorry for letting the cat out of the bag, but today this is a common description used by lots of people when discussing the far-right of the American political spectrum. On the flip side, those on the far left are described as Marxist, intolerant, police haters, and racist for insisting that multiculturalism is something that should be striven for or that Affirmative Action policies are still needed.
I read a lot of political commentary, a lot (that’s my problem and I’ll deal with). The kind of comments found on Cannon’s Twitter feed just aren’t that radical, and can be found in any newspaper, website, blog or Twitter feed where politics are being discussed. There is a First Amendment issue here also, and that’s why alderman Chuck Dickson chose to be the lone dissenting vote on Cannon’s firing. Good for Dickson.
Politics aside, people hired to do a job should be judged by, well, how they do the job. Lawyers are among those who, by their very training and their professional standards, put politics aside when doing their job. Think every district attorney prosecuting a death penalty case supports the death penalty? There was absolutely no evidence that Cannon’s judgement during public hearings somehow showed favoritism toward some perceived political objective.
Cannon is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia, a former member of the Board of Governors of the North Carolina Bar Association, and currently serves on the Professionalism Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association. And, by the way, he’s a registered independent. He told The Mountaineer newspaper he doesn’t like political parties.
Cannon, who said on his Twitter feed he was “proud to be fired for standing against evil,” told me he’ll continue to call out injustice when he sees it: “We are at a time where there are people who care little about the lives or civil rights of others. We no longer share common goals and just differ over the best way to achieve them. There are people who are doing real harm to others, causing pain, suffering, and even death. I have no problem criticizing that kind of behavior. It poses a real threat to our democracy.”
Waynesville’s town board members are dealing with some important, sensitive and controversial issues. It seems that at every meeting speakers are complaining very loudly about the homeless, taxes, growth issues, utility rates, the Downtown Waynesville Association, or something. From the mayor down to the aldermen, every time I see one at a social event it seems the main topic of conversation is how difficult their job is right now.
Now, they’ve got to find a new town attorney, something they’ve brought upon themselves by caving to a group seeking revenge. A tough job just got tougher.
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Excellent job of presenting the arguments of both sides and investigating Mr. Cannon's social media posts. Waynesville was fortunate to have an attorney of such integrity and impeccable credentials. Thanks to him for adhering to the rules of the Board of Aldermen meetings and keeping order as required by those rules.
We should praise him and Chuck Dickson, too, for voting against firing him.
Cannon's social media posts made it clear that he was not capable of serving *all* of the people of Waynesville fairly.
Naturally, Scott McLeod wouldn't be bothered by such things, as he lives on the same side of the fence as Cannon. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
Bravo on your comment Tim Glance!!!
The job of an attorney is to represent their clients to the best of their ability, impartially and it’s regard to differences of opinion. The author noted that. But left off an important part of that- that the clients must have confidence in their attorneys ability to do that.
In the case of the town attorney position, whoever is in that position must interact with a employees and citizens of the town and must treat them all equally, without regard to personal bias. And the elected leaders and the citizens of the town must have confidence that the person in that position will do it.
Bill Cannon, by his public statements, lost that trust enough to have his contract ended. It’s that simple. The kind of language he used is often seen by political pundits, sure. And nobody would hire a political pundit to be the town attorney.
And that became a possible liability for the town when coupled with his actions. When he was shutting down public comment during town meetings because he felt it was not relevant he was making up his own rules. He was not following the published rules for public comment. His shutting down speech he determined wasn’t related to “town business” was him making up an arbitrary rule that didn’t exist. And it was only applied on certain topics, ones that happened to involve criticism of a political organization that his political beliefs aligned with. That is a problem.
The towns public comment policy is published here:
So you have a town attorney who displayed deep partisan bias in a public manner and then in town meetings was making up rules in order to shut down speakers who were not politically aligned with his beliefs when they criticized an organization that was aligned with his political beliefs.
Is that actually acceptable to anyone?
I find it noteworthy that the author and this paper are more outraged that his was fired than they were about him abusing his position to shut down public comment and speech he didn’t like- a subject they were totally silent on. I can remember when free speech issues were important to journalists.
There is a common refrain used by leaders that says, "the buck stops here." To be a leader sometimes requires making difficult decisions even when they may be unpopular. It seems that the town aldermen and alderwoman had a lapse of leadership concerning this issue. It isn't easy setting aside the noise from the loudest voices in the room and listening more carefully to the quiet ones. Hopefully, they will own their poor judgement, and do so publicly. Then, learn from it and strive to improve their leadership skills moving forward.
I wonder if Mr. McLeod would've wrote and published this commentary expressing his support for Cannon if Cannon had expressed right wing conservative views? Care to respond Mr. McLeod???
Thanks for laying this out so clearly. The cancel culture on the Right is out of control. No one has seriously disputed that Cannon was doing a good job. He was fired simply for his beliefs. Sadly, the First Amendment doesn't seem to apply when the speech doesn't sit well with Haywood's Trumpist majority.
Thank you for writing this. I thought it was curious that Bill Cannon was fired while doing a good job. It made me almost laugh when I found out he has a whopping 39 followers. Let's look at our real problematic issues....not petty people with their noses out of joint.