Monday, November 18, 2013

Thiess versus the people of Galveston County

For the benefit of the many of you who are not paying subscribers of Galveston County Daily News, I'm linking a YouTube of League City Councilwoman Thiess's recording of the recent fist fight between Councilmen Becker and Okeeffe at the end of this post. 
Screengrab from KTRK's original reporting on the incident
Let me first summarize the facts of this incident as they have evolved since the original story broke.  Thiess's audio recording of the fight was initially not released to the public because it was considered evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation.  After the charges against both Councilmen were dropped last week, that restriction expired and the recording was obtained and published by GCDN (paywalled). 

What has happened since then is interesting in a number of respects.  Having been thusly liberated from the court of law, the issue is now firmly within the court of public opinion, and public opinion seems to have shifted away from the two duke-it-out Councilmen and re-focused on the motivations of Thiess in having made the audio recording in the first place. 

The reason for this is easy to understand.  On the recording, you can hear a pretty simple altercation between two grown men.  While everyone acknowledges that their behavior was childish, their exchange sounds very authentic and very mutual.  Neither of them appears to have disproportionately violated the other.  You get the feeling that there was nothing going on between Becker and Okeeffe that wasn't immediately apparent - all cards were on the table. 

My own confidence in both men actually rose following their fist fight because I know from my fifty-odd years of general life experience and empirical wisdom that sneaky people don't generally act like either of those gentlemen did, and therefore they are probably not sneaky at heart.  Sneaky people are much more controlled, more conniving, more capable of manipulating adverse circumstances to make themselves look good even as they are doing bad.  Given that politics is a magnet for sneaky, self-serving people, if we as Leaguers can look at a couple of our City Councilmen and conclude that the worst we're dealing with is two pathologically candid if occasionally childish elected individuals, then maybe we ought to consider that a gift from God, because we could have done much worse.

Thiess, on the other hand, has drawn attention for what some folks are concluding was a fundamentally sneaky act:  conspiring to record both elected and administrative officials without their knowledge or permission.  While that may have been legal (this paywalled GCDN editorial concludes that it probably was), by any objective evaluation, Thiess wasn't being honest in what she was doing.  At least what Becker and Okeeffe did was honest. 

I was actually surprised by the tenacity of some of the comment responses to this on GCDN.  My own feelings toward Thiess's actions are rather neutral at this point.  Certainly there are significant unanswered questions as to her reasons for making the recording, but I don't see any a priori reason to believe that she had a specific dastardly motive. 

Of course, that opinion is coming from a blogger with a track record of not only taping the actions of others without their knowledge, but actually publishing the resulting content online (e.g., my "dash cam" series in which I filmed the good people of League City engaging in motor vehicle violations).  I tend to assume that, in this day and age, each of us better expect that we are constantly being recorded and/or monitored in some fashion.  And with technology being what it is, this is only going to get worse.  I generally don't feel like I have anything to hide, so if someone wants to record me, whatever.  This is not high on my list of personal priorities regarding what to get upset about.   

But in the city that vehemently voted out red light cameras for the unreasonable intrusion that they were perceived to represent, my view on privacy is not a majority view (I represented the one out of every four voters who preferred to keep the danged red light cameras).  People around here have very strong ideas about what they should reasonably expect in terms of privacy, and being secretly recorded is not something that they're prepared to accept, either formally or informally. 

It'll be interesting to see whether Thiess proceeds to offer any public statement in her own defense.  Meanwhile, here's her recording of the now-famous fight (NSFW - explicit language, which is also very candid, and I have to give you a URL rather than an embed because this video is so new that YouTube doesn't have it indexed yet):

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