SHOULD A PUBLIC OFFICIAL BE ABLE TO THREATEN OR INTIMIDATE A CONSTITUENT?
Citizens should have the ability to speak out about their government without fear of retaliation from government officials. Threats of lawsuits by a public official against anyone that has the courage to come forward should be prohibited by the City Commission.
Many of us were taught that caring about and participating in our Government was our civic duty. Elected officials should always encourage public participation, even when citizens disagree with or question them. When a private citizen questions our government in a professional manner, public officials should never tolerate one of its members threatening the citizen asking the question, no matter how uncomfortable it is to the official who objects to the question or inquiry.
It is a First Amendment Right for anyone to comment on or critique the actions of our government. It is in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution for good reason. It is recognized as our most important Right; one that many have fought and died for. Many feel it is this First Amendment Right that sets our nation apart from all others.
Locally, our City government, the City Commission, should always encourage citizen participation. Our Government benefits from citizen input. Increased citizen participation exposes our Government to wider and more diverse perspectives on issues (the wisdom of crowds), provides additional checks and balances to our Government and offers fresh new ideas from those citizens who have long term vested interest in our community. It is Royal Oak’s active and engaged citizens that have made our city so great and their input and participation will improve our Government’s performance.
Unfortunately, intimidation and threats of lawsuits against any of us who exercise these rights violates our civil rights and can silence citizen participation. This type of politically motivated lawsuit threatens free speech and is commonly referred to as a SLAPP lawsuit.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat.
A SLAPP lawsuit could be filed by a public official against any resident who speaks in an attempt to stifle or limit their constituent's comments. Frankly, this seems un-American. After reading the definition of a SLAPP lawsuit, I would like to know what others in the community think of this type of tactic if used by a public official. What can a community do to stop this type of bully tactic if used by so called "community leaders"? What do you think?