When I was 11, I took the first plane flight I can remember. My 14-year-old sister Cindy and I flew from Atlanta to Philadelphia to visit relatives. Cindy was upset about missing her friends for the summer and took the window seat where she cried for most of the flight. There was a Canadian businessman next to me in the aisle seat.
As the plane took off, it was a bit turbulent and I was concerned. The businessman next to me told me that I shouldn’t worry. During World War II, planes shook a lot more on takeoff than this one. I asked him if he were a pilot and he said "Yes." I then asked him if he was in Asia or Europe. He said that he flew planes over Germany. I then asked him if he ever shot down any German airplanes. He then looked around and said quietly to me with a smile, “No, I was a German.”
I have always remembered that encounter. I think part of the reason is the emotions involved with flying. The other reason is that I found that you can meet interesting people while traveling. Also, I think that there is an inherent sense of insecurity when we travel. While flying can be very memorable, it can also involve moments with the unknown.
This past week, Guam Visitors Bureau Vice President Bobby Alvarez was critical of United Airlines in a personal social media post. He later took down the post and apologized for his comments. He explained that he was expressing frustration regarding an experience some of his family members had with the airline. There is a learning curve that political or public appointees need to have and this is likely just a good example of this concept.
Unlike normal citizens or many classified government employees, political or discretionary appointment officials have to live by a separate set of rules. In effect, appointees are ambassadors for the government in the functional areas they serve in. As such, the things they say are governed by a separate set of rules. While some may think this is a free speech issue, it is not. In the particular context of a government appointee making statements about a major stakeholder they have to interface with, even in a “private” sense, the rules are simply different.
In 2006, the Supreme Court also ruled on public employee speech in Garcetti v. Ceballos. In this case, a prosecutor made certain public statements about a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that certain work-related statements made by public employees are not necessarily protected by the First Amendment. In the case of appointees, who are essentially “at will” to their appointing authorities, First Amendment protections can be even less. Of course, there are likely exceptions, such as whistleblower related protections, but the point is that these officials need to be careful. Luckily for me, University of Guam professors have explicit free speech protections.