A thin-skinned town council in Dauphin County is waging war on free speech

By The Pennsylvania Record | Nov 12, 2018

A journalist isn’t entitled to more free speech rights than any other citizen in this country. So when a government wants to control what is printed, it is an attack on the rights guaranteed to everyone.

Residents of Middletown, just outside of Harrisburg, should be taking note of what is happening with their mayor and Borough Council – a group of crybabies whose attempt to punish the local newspaper is pathetic and may be against the law.

This year, the borough terminated a century-old relationship with the Press & Journal in which it was paid for publishing public notices. These government ads alert taxpayers to certain public matters such as foreclosures, auctions and hearings.

But Mayor James Curry III and six of the seven councilors don’t like what the Press & Journal is printing about them, admitting in an immature letter that they will use another newspaper to publish public notices until the tone of news coverage changes.

Why the temper tantrum? One editorial questioned if it made fiscal sense for the borough to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight a surcharge on water that the borough agreed to in 2014.

(The council also is suing the law firm that advised it on the water deal.)

In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a county in Kansas couldn’t terminate a contract with a business just because the owner showed up at some public meetings to complain and exercise his free speech rights.

It’s not surprising that Middletown’s leadership was unaware that admitting to the same type of behavior could have consequences. They seem to think they are above scrutiny.

But they are employees of Middletown’s taxpayers. And each one should be replaced the next time they are up for re-election.

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