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Councilman Defends Freedom of Speech in Public Meetings

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To the Editor:

The U.S. Supreme Court has written that traditional public forums are those that “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions."

Public streets and parks are the quintessential example.

The court has also determined that Township Council meetings are not traditional public forums and may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expression. However, that does not mean the Township Council or its attorney may restrict the questions and opinions expressed by members of the public.

At the April 9 Parsippany Township Council meeting, the township attorney prevented a resident from asking questions that some may not have wanted to hear. At township meetings the council may restrict speech “as long as the restrictions are reasonable and are not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view."

I don't believe the restrictions placed on the resident at the April 9 meeting were reasonable at all. The resident should have been able to speak during her allotted time.

It is no fluke that freedom of speech is the First Amendment. The founding fathers knew that democracy would fail without it. The importance of free speech remains evident today. Countries that protect free speech thrive; countries that suppress it fail.

Salman Rushdie wrote, "Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game, free speech is life itself."

Public officials have an unwritten contract with members of the public. I believe that contract was broken at the April 9 meeting by the township attorney. His actions do not represent the opinion of this councilman.

Councilman Jonathan Nelson
Powder Mill 

Edd Flammer April 10, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Jonathan, Perhaps you should explain why you and the rest of the council allowed this to happen. My understanding is that township attorney works for you guys, At any point you could have raised the issue that he was overstepping his bounds by ruling someone out of order (I was under the impression that is the right and role of the elected council president not the appointed lawyer) Also aside from writing this letter what do you plan to do about this?
Boregard LaPollo April 10, 2013 at 06:00 PM
I attended the meeting and was sitting towards the front. When video on the go broadcasts the meeting you will see and hear both Councilmen Nelson and Carifi urging the Council President to allow Mrs. Pettacia to speak.
Edd Flammer April 10, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Thanks Ray, That was not made clear in the linked article. I do hope this does get followed up and something is done to make it clear to the Township attorney that he is an employee of the council not a participant. Also hope Stanton gets called out for abdicating his responsibility as council president by allowing this to happen
Natalie Davis (Editor) April 10, 2013 at 07:02 PM
It's not clear in the linked article because I was not aware of that and have spoken to neither Councilman Carifi nor Nelson. I was busy fiddling with a tape recorder and shooting video of Ms. Petaccia. So thank you for letting me know their activities while this was going on.
tracya April 10, 2013 at 08:13 PM
Oh, so Carifi was urging the Council President to allow his spokesperson to continue interupting a public meeting with questions that have been answered? It is a shame for our democracy that journalism has gotten this poor when no one even knows or understands the first ammendment. Her Freedom of Speech was never violated. The Solicitor acted liked a jerk, but there is no law against that. It is a first ammendment violation if they threatened to put her in jail for speaking or did not allow her to state an opinion.
Boregard LaPollo April 10, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Tracya you are way off base and obviously was not at the meeting. Ms. Pettacia was not allowed to speak. Period. The attorney was out of line and if anyone could be accused of turning the evening political, it was John Inglesino when he called Ms. Pettacia a shill for Mr. Valori. I think Councilman Nelson hit it on the mark when he wrote "At township meetings the council may restrict speech as long as the restrictions are reasonable and are not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view." That is exactly what Inglesino did during the PUBLIC COMMENT PORTION of the meeting.
Jay Waldstein April 10, 2013 at 09:03 PM
@tracya, our democracy is working just fine and journalism is responsibly reporting what is going on. You are just annoyed - as you should be - that this mayor has crafted an ominous path for himself that leaves him and the township exposed to unfavorable media coverage. But this media coverage is a RESULT of Barberio's bad behavior that likely broke a law or two. In addition, this mayor is deceiving and letting down his supporters. And when the Somerset County Prosecutors are finished (they were at town hall TODAY gathering more evidence), County authorities will be able to specifically outline and reveal what the mayor was up to based on evidence collected from their investigation. If the mayor behaved himself, ALL of this would not be happening in the first place. The only "shameful" and "poor" variables in this equation is this mayor and his reported actions which prompted the accusation, the subsequent investigation and the angry, out-of-countrol town council meetings.
tracya April 10, 2013 at 09:13 PM
@Jay that is the oldest story in politics... if I had a dime for every time someone said that so and so was at town hall, I could afford to buy you the clue you are obviously lacking. I have seen the tape and it does not take more than your third grade education to figure out that Pat is a shill... What is embarassing and sickening is that Mr. Carifi would make up a lie without any proof... these people have done it before and will do it again... Mr. Carifi is a sad excuse for a human being all politics aside.
Boregard LaPollo April 10, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Want to know something Tracya, your comments on Patch today are more inciting than Ms. Pettacia's were at the meeting.
M P Monahan April 10, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Ah the lovely and misguided tracya, blaming everyone under the sun: democracy, the media and now Carifi. Next you will be blaming the electric companies that supply the power that supports these Patch posts on our computers. Keep spinning those wheels tracya, you are just getting deeper into that mud bath of disappointment that the mayor has drawn for all his supporters. Hope you got a lot of energy tracya, you will need it. What you are reading now is nothing compared to what will disgust you when the investigation really heats up.
Mike P April 10, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Spot on Councilman Nelson!
steeldoor April 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Nelson is an aimless trouble maker. Hasn't it occurred to anyone that maybe the Mayor was advised not to answer such questions? If there is or possibly will be an investigation going on, answering would not be the smartest thing. Pat should just take a midol and sit back and wait.
Mike P April 10, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Troublemaker? He stated pretty much what everyone is thinking. Maybe the mayor was advised not to answer any questions. So what. The point is that John Inglesino usurped his authority and never allowed Pat Pettacia to say or ask anything. The mayor has as much right not to answer as much as Pat has to ask.
Natalie Davis (Editor) April 10, 2013 at 11:16 PM
That's right. I often say it's my job to ask, but I cannot force anyone to answer. That's their right. steeldoor, shame on you. "Take a Midol?" What is this, 1954???
John P Hanover April 11, 2013 at 12:26 AM
So basically the author is OK using town council meetings as a political forum - which was the obvious intent. The biggest problem with politicians is they'd rather play politics to get elected than do the job they were elected to do.
Mike P April 11, 2013 at 12:48 AM
John Hanover, Parsippany Councilmen are elected to represent the people of Parsippany, even the ones who make statements or ask questions they may not want to hear. If you want to accuse anyone of political posturing, there is only one person to blame. John Inglesino, the township attorney. I'm actually curious to know how the other Councilmen feel about what happened

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