Peachtree City Wants To Use Taxpayer Money To Sue Critics Of City Government

from the can-someone-buy-them-a-Bill-of-Rights? dept

What is it with the state of Georgia and its attempts to stifle free speech and a free press? It’s the state that argues its official copy of the law is covered by copyright and cannot be posted online. The same state that is currently trying to regulate journalism by creating “ethical standards” they have to follow. The same state that is so bad in responding to public records law that an official was actually criminally charged for it?

The latest, as sent in by a few people, is that tonight, Peachtree City, a suburb of Atlanta, is voting on a laughably obviously unconstitutional provision that would allow city officials to file bogus SLAPP suits, using taxpayer funds, against critics. Really. Specifically, the proposal says that the city will provide “coverage for legal expenses when a City official has been defamed in a public media outlet or otherwise slandered or libeled to the public…” It does note that the defamation must be a “valid claim for defamation… under Georgia law.” So, one might argue that filing a bogus SLAPP suit wouldn’t be covered by this policy — but it’s unclear how that will work.

We see bogus defamation lawsuits filed all the time to censor critics, and as a public official, the bar to a successful defamation lawsuit is (for very good reasons) quite high. So, under this proposal, will the city officials have to pay back the city treasury if such a case is tossed out? One would hope that’s the case, but the text of the proposal has no language to that effect. The only language is has regarding reimbursement is that if the lawsuit is “settled in the City’s favor, the City shall seek reimbursement for the actual legal costs incurred in successful pursuit of the defamation ruling by the person or persons committing the defamation.”

It has no provision for what happens when it turns out there wasn’t defamation and the city just wasted taxpayer funds suing critics who didn’t actually defame anyone.

It is already dubious that any public official should ever be suing critics — but to have taxpayers have to foot the bill for SLAPP suits is both deeply obnoxious and unconstitutional, that it seems perfect for Georgia.

The city manager, Jon Rorie, is quoted in a few different articles about this, basically making the same extraordinarily bad point

?I don?t think that someone should have the ability to come in and just said something, that I committed a crime, I don?t think it?s fair,? said Jon Rorie, the city manager of Peachtree City.

Right. And if it’s actually defamatory, then you can sue yourself. You don’t need taxpayer funds to go after someone.

In the other link (up above, towards the beginning of the article) Rorie gets even more ridiculous:

?It?s a brave, new world. It?s not about people criticizing. It?s about being defamed,? Rorie said, noting that such defamation could come from a newspaper or any media, including social media. ?People think they have the luxury of saying false things about people. No one has the right to say I (or anyone working or volunteering for the city) am corrupt and attack me publicly.?

Actually, Jon, you’re wrong. People absolutely do have the right to attack you (verbally) in public. And they can certainly make opinion-based statements, including arguing that actions are corrupt. To actually be defamation, they would need to be making false statements of fact, where they knew the statement was false (or recklessly disregarded the truth) and those statements had to actually harm your reputation. That doesn’t seem to be the standard Rorie is laying out here.

The journalist for the Citizen properly pointed out to Rorie that, even if this is all true, the bigger question is why should taxpayer funds go towards such lawsuits, and Rorie’s answer is telling:

Rorie was asked why use taxpayers dollars to sue an individual. Rorie responded, saying he did not know the answer to that question, adding that the topic is worth discussing in a public meeting and, hence, was put on the agenda.

Seems like the kind of thing you should think about before pushing such a resolution, no?

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Comments on “Peachtree City Wants To Use Taxpayer Money To Sue Critics Of City Government”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Does anyone think this resolution actually will do anything? It seems like people who are high enough in a municipal government (like a mayor or selectman) would have enough pull in the town government to get a lawsuit filed. Meanwhile, lowly town workers who don’t have the ear of the town’s lawyer will be met with the same lack of interest they would get without the resolution.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Peachtree city is a WEIRD place.

It’s where the state’s National Weather Service is, for instance.
It was also where one of the last two K-Marts in the state were (the other was Covington, the city where everything from the first season of the Dukes of Hazard and CannonBall Run 1 to the Rob Zombie Halloween and Vampire Diaries were filmed).

You know what else it has? A second road system for golf carts. And yes, the parking lots also have rows of golf cart spaces.

because PTC is a rich, and quite asshole-ish town. There’s a Goodwill donation center, but no store (you have to go to Newnan for that) and they have that ‘you can’t have a chain store that looks like the chain store, it has to look like every other building locally’ rule (like other rich asshole-ish towns do.

Also, until 5 years ago, when it was sued by the NAACP the county severely disenfranchised non-white candidates for the school and county boards.

Also, at 25 miles south of Atlanta, it’s not really suburbs any more, there’s quite a bit of countryside between. like 15 miles of it between PTC and the airport. and it’s also not a fun commute in (I85 is hell, and GA74 is also a real pain – disclaimer, I live just off GA74 which for walking dead fans, is the Road to Woodbury)

wshuff (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I was saying yes to Eagleton, but maybe also to the doppler. I don’t know.

I can say that I truly love the golf cart paths, mostly because it means I get to avoid that traffic on 74. And it has been three or four years since I’ve driven as much as 10,000 miles in a year.

But I’m not a fan of this proposal. So there’s good and bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Modern 21st century liberals are getting these notions they can re-write the US Constitution any time they want and once challenged will use public funds to to defend their treasonous tendencies. They should all be sent to Mars where they can do everything they want while searching for water and air.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hmmm… a quick Google search suggests that Peachtree’s officials are non-partisan and Fleisch is actually a registered Republican.

"Vanessa Fleisch — First, municipal elections are non-partisan and I think that they should stay that way. My party affiliation/persuasion is Republican."

Where did you get the "liberal" from?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can second this PTC sucks. I worked there for almost two years and never have I disdained a place more in my life. There is no greater embodiment of a NIMBY town. Also traffic to get there and back was hell. Although I will say they have the best Kroger I’ve ever been to(huuuuuuggggeeee), but that is the only thing I miss about that place. It is so commercialized and I felt like everything was a chain with very few good local restaurants. And the golf cart culture is awful. I would not recommend it to anyone

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing about being a public servant is that you’re there to serve the public. Even the bits of the public you don’t like. The public is not there to serve you.

So when someone who is not part of the government makes uninformed statements of opinion and demands you be fired, it is your duty as a public servant to acknowledge them and inform them. If this doesn’t stop them from saying bad things and they get more of the public on their side, they can fire you and hire the people they want for the position.

If you don’t like this, don’t work for the government.

cracker says:

weird politicians

of course it’s NOT the ‘state’ of Georgia or this Peachtree ‘city’ pushing this cr@p proposal — it’s just a couple of arrogant local politicians.
Why condemn the whole state or city?

Mayor Vanessa Fleisch is the primary culprit here. She is the first female mayor of Peachtree City and a former CNN TV producer. She took office with the formal votes of only about 20% of the Peachtree City electorate.

Both the local newspaper and TV station have sharply criticized her proposal.

There are 60 cities comprising the Atlanta metro area — a bonanza for installing worthless, self-serving politicians into unnecessary offices as petty rulers.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Maybe stop giving them reason to?

“People think they have the luxury of saying false things about people. No one has the right to say I (or anyone working or volunteering for the city) am corrupt and attack me publicly.”

Because if there’s one thing that says ‘I am not corrupt’, it’s trying to pass a law forcing the public to pay your legal fees.

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