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December 18, 2004

All Politics is Local

I know a man in our town who, when it was decided it was next to impossible to pursue his former career upon moving here, thought perhaps web design would be a part-time option until something else came along. Over the past two years, he has had a few small clients, two of which were on the order of "pro bono." These clients were two people who were running for re-election to public office, and this man felt they were representing him well … if he could make some small contribution to their efforts, great.

There is another local man, whom I don't know at all, but anyone could see he was a "grass roots" kind of guy, trying to save the brick building portion of the power plant on the bay for another community use. Whether it could be done is beside the point … he felt he had a good idea. He repeatedly showed up at City Commission meetings to offer his case, and to ask that the building not be torn down so fast. He also felt (and perhaps it is so stated in the City Charter) that the public utility building, bought and paid for with public funds, could only be disposed of with a vote of the public.

Mr. Grass Roots was getting nowhere fast, and it seemed the City Commission would now, as a result of his pleas, move full steam ahead in taking the building down. He appealed to the Courts to stop the demolition by suing the City.

Well back in the summer, before the lawsuit, a third citizen asked the web designer to put up a website with information about the brick building and the efforts to save it. The web designer did so and was paid minimally for his efforts. Mr. Grass Roots collected signatures on a petition, held public meetings attended by architects, local citizens, and local developers. You know, doing some of the same work done by others to save Building 50, or the Barns at the Commons, when both ideas were unpopular (and then turned out to be two of the best ideas ever).

The City, in the meantime, decided to sue Mr. Grass Roots for expenses the City has incurred in answering his lawsuit, "in order to teach a lesson." Mind you, there have been two other suits filed against the City by other citizens … one by two business owners who objected to the placement of the BATA station, and the other by a neighborhood which objected to the placement of a power pole in their historic neighborhood. The City won these two cases and to my knowledge, has not then "gone after" the business owners and neighborhood for expenses.

The City, in pursuing its case against Mr. Grass Roots, contacted the web designer for a discovery deposition, asking who hired him for the website, who paid him, how much was he paid, and for any and all material, including all emails, connected with the website. It was (in my opinion) not so subtly threatened that if it was felt by the City Attorney that all material from the web designer's computer was not delivered, the City could subpoena his hard drive.

So, here you have it. If you are a citizen of this community who goes against the mood of the city commission (a small body of people with special interests), then you may be sued. If you are a person who tries to help a grass roots group by putting their information on a website you designed, your method of livelihood, such as it is, may be taken from you just because someone has a "feeling" you may not have delivered all material.

Let's take it a step further … trying to effect change in your community by letter writing, letters to the editor or forum pieces in your local newspaper, photocopying flyers, placing ads in newspapers, holding public meetings about the issue, getting petition signatures, making a video for the public tv channel, or literally anything else, is subject to prying into your personal life and intimidation.

Posted by Gadflygirl at December 18, 2004 08:22 AM

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