Middletown, Pennsylvania – Middletown Mayor James Curry on Sunday issued a warning to members of the Middletown Borough Council, advising against elected officials blocking borough residents on social media. Mayor Curry highlighted the borough’s significant legal costs associated with potential lawsuits that could result.
By blocking borough residents, the elected council members are violating the First Amendment right to free speech of their constituents.
Council members create a public debate forum when they post to social media about matters related to the borough. Rightfully, that forum must be inclusive to all constituents.
Mayor Curry has taken issue with council members Dawn Knull, and Angela Lloyd, and he said it’s not the first time this issue has been raised. Curry provided a copy of an earlier email correspondence between himself and Dawn Knull.
In the email, Curry referred to the advice of the Borough Solicitor after the issue was previously brought by Bob Houser. Knull acknowledged receiving the legal advice, yet claimed that she “forgot about that” when questioned by Mayor Curry in May, 2020.
Per the legal analysis of Middletown’s Borough Solicitor, council members who use their social media accounts to discuss official matters are advised to unblock borough residents, and to report abuse immediately.
The case is not unprecedented. Elected officials such as President Trump, Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, and U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have faced lawsuits in the past over blocking users on Twitter.
Following the outcome of the most recent case in Harrisburg, attorney Marc Scaringi said that Mr. Fetterman’s unblocking of his clients was a victory for free speech and that it would have been Mr. Fetterman using taxpayer funds, not his clients, to defend against the threatened lawsuit.
In June, 2020, Middletown was engulfed with controversy surrounding a social media post about Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Levine posted by borough council member Richard Kluskiewiciz.
Borough council member Angela Lloyd, and activists from PA Democrats staged a protest outside the borough’s council meeting demanding that Councilman Richard Kluskiewiciz be removed for the posts he made on Facebook.