Did you catch this story a few days ago? If you didn’t, it’s one that should get your attention. Because the allegations made as part of a lawsuit might have a very chilling effect on how free you might be in exercising your right of free speech.
Because as one former employee alleges as part of a lawsuit – expressing his freedom of speech in a June 17, 2015 Rapid City Journal Column may have triggered pressure to his employer from a City Councilman resulting in his termination:
Former Rapid City Alderman Ron Sasso notified the city that he plans to sue for $885,000.
Sasso claims that then–City Council President Jerry Wright pressured his employers to fire him over an article Sasso wrote in the Rapid City Journal.
In a letter to the city council, City attorney Joel Landeen called Sasso’s claim “weak” and plans to bring the matter up at an executive session of the city council.
Read it all here.
How did this lawsuit come about? As I’m told, it all came up during a lawsuit filed against Rapid City, Mr. Sasso’s name was brought up in a deposition with Rapid City Alderman Jerry Wright. And it would seem that Jerry Wright wasn’t exactly denying that he had words with Mr. Sasso’s employer about his political opinions:
Q Did you ever become aware that Ron Sasso supported your contender in this last election?
Q Did you ever contact his employer about his blog post?
Q What did you tell him?
A I told him that the statements made there were very unfair and inaccurate, and they did not reflect well upon me, and very unfair. And I said, I don’t think that the comments that were made should be made by a person in his position. I felt that it looked — I said, you know, I support Black Hills Works, where he works, and I said, I think that your neutrality is an important part of your — part of being in this community.
And his statements were — I don’t know what they were based on. They were certainly not based on facts, in my opinion.
Q And which statements did you actually disagree with that he made?
A He said I was manager of the landfill for years when it was full of corruption.
Q So you didn’t like it very well when someone else was degrading your reputation. Is that fair?
A Well, when someone makes an irresponsible statement in the press, absolutely, because I ran that landfill for 23 years, and it was a simple case of a customer stealing money. And he was caught and shut down by me in February of ’06. And Mr. Sasso obviously wasn’t aware of that.
And the issue became very political when Sam ran in 2011, and I think there were a lot of statements made that were very irresponsible and grossly inaccurate.
And let me add this for the record. Talking about corruption, in the investigation of the landfill, I was never interrogated by any law enforcement or state’s attorney on any issue related to that, nor was I ever charged, nor did I ever attend the grand jury, or anything, for that matter.
Q So then —
A Another thing is Mr. Sasso was not aware of some of the evidence that we had at hand that proved contrary to what he was saying. But go ahead.
Q He was on the city council for one of your terms at the same time, wasn’t he?
A Yes, he was for two years.
Q What was your relationship with him during those two years?
A Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
Q You earlier stated that the mayor, certain of his actions are as a politician. But you understand that whatever action he’s taking has effect on real people. For instance, statements made on a radio, they would affect a real person.
MR. NOONEY: Objection; foundation.
A I can’t say they necessarily affected anyone. They could. They may or may not.
Q (BY MR. PEKARSKI:) Okay.
A Depends what they are.
Q Did you think Ron Sasso’s comments affected you?
It certainly isn’t the first letter to the editor written complaining about a politician, but it becomes unusual when the politician is so thin-skinned that, by his own admission, he contacts the writer’s employer, and complains about it as if the employer had anything to do with it.
When a City Councilman intimates that he could somehow hold it against them by stating “ think that your neutrality is an important part of your — part of being in this community,” if that doesn’t cause a chilling effect on one’s rights to express a political opinion, I don’t know what would.
What do you think?