A federal lawsuit has been filed against the City of Port Huron City Manager for deleting Facebook comments of residents who have questioned and been critical of the city government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, among other things.
The lawsuit states that James Freed, the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Port Huron, Michigan, “operates a Facebook page which posts official policy announcements and official city government communications; information about government decisions; and highlights of local business, nonprofits, and members of the community from, in, and involving the City of Port Huron.” The suit seeks a court order to permanently halt the City Manager’s delete-and-ban policy and allow the Facebook page to return to a traditional public forum.
The case has been assigned to Federal Judge Mark A. Goldsmith in Detroit. WGRT reached out to City Manager Freed, who responded by email, “This is and for years going back to before my tenure Port Huron has been my personal Facebook page. I use it for personal matters and to post about public and community events. I pay all costs and control my page. This is not and has never been a City Facebook page.” WGRT also reached out to Mayor Pauline Repp. Repp had yet to see the actual lawsuit and said that the matter will be handled by the attorneys.
The plaintiff in the case is Port Huron resident Kevin Lindke. He was asked by WGRT what his goal in the lawsuit was, and he stated, “simply to get the City Manager of Port Huron to stop deleting comments and banning Facebook users.” Lindke said he is concerned that city officials often paint a far rosier picture of the city and need to allow alternative points of view to be posted on Freed’s Facebook page. Lindke, who plans to run for Mayor of Port Huron this fall, also stated that city officials were not providing much needed encouragement and direction to city residents during this current pandemic.
WGRT also reached out to Lindke’s attorney Phil Ellison. Mr. Ellison describes himself as a constitutional lawyer who, “argues for open and robust” dialogue between government and citizens. He told WGRT that Mr. Freed was told by members of the community that what he was doing was not constitutional. Ellison stated the case could be resolved quickly and easily if Manager Freed simply stipulated that he did in fact violate the constitution and will discontinue the practices.
Reporting for WGRT – Marty Doorn
Updated April 6, 2020