Speak your mind, and your name

When we heard about Ron Friedman, an elected trustee at Warren-Newport Public Library District in Gurnee, adopting an assumed name to speak out at Lake County Housing Authority meetings, our reaction was simple.

Just don’t. It’s good advice for any public official, even one like Friedman who wants to influence policy at various levels.

There’s no problem with Friedman speaking at housing authority meetings. But Friedman the library trustee has no business hiding behind the alias Judah Soledad to publicly lambaste the agency, as he’s done repeatedly since at least April 2010. Especially when his explanation — that he wants to separate his roles as a library trustee and as a civic activist — fails to acknowledge that the housing authority fired Friedman’s wife, Malgorzata Friedman, last year.

Sure, dual identities have a long history in America, from Lady Gaga to Watergate’s Deep Throat to Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay writing the Federalist Papers.

But Friedman’s double identity, detailed Sunday by Daily Herald Staff Writer Bob Susnjara, doesn’t mesh with today’s demands for transparency and accountability from public officials.

It doesn’t stem from any legitimate fears of reprisal, like some of our historic examples. And it comes across as, well, a little kooky, especially since Friedman knew the housing authority knew his real identity.

From an editorial board’s standpoint (you’ll find our names in the top right corner), “don’t be kooky” isn’t much of an insight to offer readers. But of course, there’s more to it than that. While Friedman’s attempt to be anonymous in plain sight might be novel, it’s not all that far removed from the behavior some people engage in all the time: lobbing accusations, innuendo, verbal abuse and inappropriate comments without signing their names.

It happens in online comment boards. It happens in politics. It happens in blogs (which Friedman is considering doing under the name Judah Soledad.) It happens when people lack the courage to stand up for what they say and to say only what they can stand up for.

Back in December, we spoke against that kind of destructive misinformation as we floated a series of New Year’s resolutions for 2011. It bears repeating.

“If you can’t sign it,” we advised, “don’t say it, online, in print or anywhere else.”

We added, “If it isn’t signed, don’t believe it, forward it or quote it as fact.”

Thanks to Ron Friedman, it might be time to tack on another corollary. If you’re involved in the public business and you can’t stand up and put your own, honest name behind the statement you make, don’t say it.

Just don’t.