Business owner and developer Rick Reed taking Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson to court over Twitter account
FORT PIERCE – On ongoing feud between business owner and developer Rick Reed and the majority of the City Commission over the naming of his kayak launch will now play out in federal court after he sued one of them from blocking him from his Twitter account.
Mr. Reed filed suit July 29 alleging Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson violated his First Amendment Rights by blocking responses from the former’s Twitter account named after his U.S. 1 business, Sweetie's Diner. Mr. Reed claims the commissioner has used his personal Twitter account to communicate city business to constituents and so should have no legal right to block anyone from expressing his or her point of view, citing a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmation of a lower court ruling that President Trump violated the U.S. Constitution by blocking users from his Twitter account.
“Well the lawsuit is specifically requesting that the court order Commissioner Johnson to unblock his Twitter account,” Mr. Reed said during a telephone conversation Aug. 1. “He used his account in a public way, and he doesn’t have a right because he doesn’t believe a constituent should be a part of that to block him or her. I’m not only asking for him to unblock me, but for him to unblock anyone else and to allow public access to his social media.”
Mr. Reed had a volatile public confrontation with both Commissioner Johnson and Mayor Linda Hudson at the end of their July 8 Conference Agenda when the two balked at naming the kayak park after late healthcare activist Sylvie Kramer Marceau. He and Vero Beach developer Joe Foglia agreed to build the kayak launch in exchange for a right of way they needed to construct luxury villas at the foot of the Citrus Avenue overpass. Mr. Reed stormed out of that meeting after swearing at the two opposing members of the Commission, who together with Commissioner Thomas Perona during the next meeting, formally rejected the naming request on July 15, despite several members of the public asking them not to do so.
The developer did not speak during the second meeting but attempted to respond to a comment made by Commissioner Johnson on his Twitter account a couple days later and realized he was blocked from access. A close friend of Ms. Kramer-Marceau for several years, Mr. Reed helped sit with her while she was under hospice care and formed part of the retinue that accompanied the body to her native France for burial.
“We thought it was a no-brainer being that the mayor had issues a proclamation on her death and the Florida Senate had issued a proclamation,” he said. “I had never dreamed that because I was involved that they would… stoop this low. I was really hurt, and they have taken a good thing and tried to make it bad.”
In his lawsuit, the Mr. Reed described the way the way in which the commissioner interacted with his constituents through his Twitter account.
“The @Fpjeremiahj account is a kind of digital town hall in which (Johnson) uses the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to (Johnson) and exchange views with one another,” he alleged in the suit. “Because of the way in which (Johnson) uses @Fpjeremiahj, the account has become an important channel for news about the city of Fort Pierce and the local government. Those who are blocked from the account are impeded in their ability to learn information that is shared only through that account.”
Commissioner Johnson said Aug. 1 that he has since deactivated this Twitter account but believes Mr. Reed misinterpreted his actions when he blocked access from a Twitter handle he says he didn’t recognize.
“I blocked what I saw as spam, a.k.a. an unknown follower with a backwards name called @dinersweeties,” he said. “In a notification setting on the tweet, I noticed that our daughter, a minor, had already liked the tweet. I then saw the handle @dinersweeties had also liked my tweet. I knew nothing of this handle nor its actual owner at the time because all of my friends let me know they are engaging on twitter or when they follow me because they are not sneaky. This was odd to me, so I questioned its existence, and therefore the handle was blocked.”
The commissioner also believes the developer mistakenly thought a Biblical scripture reference he sent to his wife via Twitter July 16 as a form of encouragement before her surgery was directed at him, writing ‘sometimes it is hard to understand the work of the devil but thankfully it is not my war… just a small daily battle overcoming hate by living a life filled with love.”
“This tweet also included a scripture of encouragement and it was during this moment that my heart was focused on those which mean the most to me...my family,” he said. “Sometimes we provide different ways of encouragement to each other to share that each of us has our own bumpy road to travel at any given moment. I will never post about Mr. Reed nor his business because it is not appropriate to do so. He is just another human being on this earth that I have been taught by my faithful parents and grandparents to love and respect because he was created in the image of God... as I believe it to be.”
Although he deactivated the account, Commissioner Johnson said it’s been archived for reference if need-be for the lawsuit. When asked why he had not tried to meet with Mr. Reed prior to the first discussion on the kayak launch naming to explain the reasons for his hesitancy, the former said such efforts have always been rebuffed.
“During my short tenure, I have invited Mr. Reed to meet me in my office more than six times to discuss his concerns, and he refuses,” Commissioner Johnson said. “I have sent personal invitations on at least two occasions in 2019. I am available to Mr. Reed continuously to no avail.”
The same day, however, Mr. Reed said he didn’t believe Commissioner Johnson, Mayor Hudson or Commissioner Perona would have met with him prior to their discussions on the kayak launch and said he’s known the latter two for many years.
“They wouldn’t have met with me, and knowing the relationship, nothing would have been accomplished,” he said. “Knowing the history that we have – I have known Commissioner Tom Perona since we were both automotive dealers – knowing their character… it would have been fruitless. They don’t meet with me, and I don’t meet with them.”
While admitting that he has “a potty mouth,” Mr. Reed attributed his hot temper and rough language to the concern and passion he has for the City of Fort Pierce.
“I care tremendously and agonize over the way our community is,” he said. “We shouldn’t be talking about a kayak park: We should be talking about crime, jobs and the shootings.”
Commissioner Johnson called the developer’s behavior at the Conference Agenda meeting “out of control.”
“I am inversely as critical of Mr. Reed because it is a well-known fact that he consistently creates a skewed narrative of misinformation to put Fort Pierce in a negative light in hopes of holding government accountable,” he explained. I am also aware of the historical frivolous lawsuits or challenges by this individual over the course of many years. I find his tactics disturbing most times.”
When Mr. Reed was asked by the Hometown News whether his bond with the late activist who founded the Healthy Start Coalition of St. Lucie County in 1994 was due to the fact that both were outspoken and neither of them minced words, the developer recalled a Republican Party meeting they both attended years ago in Port St. Lucie where other residents verbally commented on the race of the then-sitting Democratic president. Although they were both Republicans themselves, Ms. Kramer-Marceau walked out before the meeting began, with Mr. Reed – the keynote speaker – following behind less than a minute later.
“She had a profound effect on me,” he said. “She changed me from being a selfish person to someone who fights for my community. She made me believe that it’s bigger than that.”