ACLU Urges Detroit to Uphold the First Amendment Rights of City Council Members

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
September 17, 2004 12:00 am

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Council Members Facing Ethics Charges for Speaking Out on Behalf of City Employees at Public Forum

DETROIT- In a letter sent today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged Detroit’s office of Corporation Counsel not to file a potential ethics complaint against three members of the Detroit City Council for speaking out during a town hall meeting in support of laid-off city and school workers.

“We hope to put this matter to rest,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Both public policy and constitutional considerations preclude the filing of an ethics complaint or taking any other action against these council members for their attendance and participation in the town hall meeting.”

The ACLU of Michigan had been asked by council members Maryanne Mahaffey, Joann Watson and Sharon McPhail to review a memorandum prepared by the City of Detroit Law Department addressing the “legality” of their conduct at a July 28 town hall meeting. At various points during the meeting, Mahaffey, Watson and McPhail made comments expressing support for groups calling for an organized strike by city employees.

In a legal memo, the Law Department claimed that making such comments violated the Detroit Ethics Ordinance and the Public Employee Relations Act (PERA). After reviewing the memo, the ACLU of Michigan said the city’s argument is based on a flawed legal analysis and would violate the First Amendment.

“The public statements of the council members are fully protected by the First Amendment,” Moss said. “The legal analysis of the Law Department is flawed and any position other than one supporting the First Amendment right of these council members to meet with laid-off employees and their union representatives will have a detrimental effect on Detroit residents.”

Although several attempts have been made, the ACLU of Michigan has been unable to confirm whether the city administration intends to file an ethics complaint with either the City Ethics Commission or the State Ethics board.

To read the letter, go to:

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