Barring Democracy in Wilkes-Barre
You may have a right to change your government . . . but that doesn’t mean government won’t fight back.
In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, there was disagreement over a firehouse, whether it should be decommissioned, or not. The mayor wanted it gone; citizens wanted it kept. So citizens got active, petitioning to change the town’s home rule charter to allow voters to decide.
The city could have simply gone along with the petition, allowing a vote. That would have been the republican, democratic, and even decent thing. But instead, Mayor Tom Leighton set the town’s attorneys on the petitioners. They even sued the petitioners for $11,056 in attorney fees, for the city’s fight against their petition.
Now, the mayor had an almost-plausible excuse. It was about the petitioning, and charges of fraud. Those charges amounted to several folks who signed the petition who later said they’d been misled.
To the petitioners, the issue of attorneys fees seemed like nothing other than an attempt to squelch their rights . . . and to discourage other uppity citizens.
So they fought back, and, in mid-November, a federal jury ruled against the mayor and the town, and awarded activist Denise Carey $67,000 in her civil rights suit.
Carey’s lawyers had put the case very plainly, saying that “Mayor Leighton may be able to take away a fire station, but don’t let him take away our constitutional rights.”
The jury didn’t.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.