Salem Township Residents Have a Right to Criticize Officials, Says ACLU Lawsuit
DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of two Salem Township residents who were removed from a Board of Trustees meeting for criticizing the township supervisor.
“At the heart of our democracy is the right to openly and publicly question the professional conduct of our elected officials,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “The United States has a long tradition of respect for this freedom and our democracy is only strengthened, not threatened, by a diversity of voices.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Bob Uherek addressed Township Supervisor Fred Roperti and said "You have demonstrated that you cannot be counted on for openness and transparency." Before Uherek could continue, Roperti demanded that he “be quiet” and leave the meeting. Roperti than summoned a Michigan State Police trooper and a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy into the meeting to escort Uherek from the meeting. A second resident, O'Neill Muirhead, then voiced his opinion that Uherek was wrongfully ejected. He too, was quickly escorted out by law enforcement officials.
“At the end of the day, elected officials represent us, our concerns, our townships, cities and state,” said Bob Uherek. “Because of this, I feel strongly that we must hold them accountable and when they try to silence us, we must stand up against their bullying.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, charges that the township supervisor’s actions violated the First Amendment and the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which prohibits the exclusion of peaceful residents.
The ACLU has successfully challenged similar actions of elected officials across the state. In 1999, a federal judge issued an injunction barring city officials in Battle Creek from keeping critics of the police chief from speaking out against him during the public comment time of city commission meetings. In that case, two members of the audience were removed from commission chambers after they attempted to explain that the police chief was not fit to lead because he had an affair with the wife of one his officers.
The clients are represented by Moss, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorneys James J. Walsh and Kenneth C. White of Bodman LLP and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director, Michael J. Steinberg.
To read the complaint, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/salemtownshipcomplaint.pdf