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蜜桃社 sues Michigan mayor who abused power, shouted down constituents at city council meeting

Mayor Owens of Eastpointe, Michigan

Eastpointe, Michigan, Mayor Monique Owens

DETROIT, Nov. 10, 2022 鈥 鈥淢om, What鈥檚 a Mayor?鈥 

Monique Owens, mayor of Eastpointe, Mich., recently published a children鈥檚 book with that question as its title. Judging by Owens鈥 behavior at recent city council meetings, a mayor is someone who is above criticism, who can shout down constituents whose views she does not like, and who doesn鈥檛 have to adhere to the First Amendment. 

The 蜜桃社 filed a federal lawsuit late Wednesday that will remind Owens that a mayor takes an oath to defend the Constitution, not herself. 蜜桃社 is representing four Eastpointe citizens who sued Owens and the city of Eastpointe, Mich., to protect the rights of all Eastpointers to peacefully criticize government officials.

Owens was elected mayor of Eastpointe, a suburb of Detroit, in 2019. At a Sept. 6, 2022, city council meeting, Owens abused her power as the presiding officer by shouting down and suppressing criticism of her while the floor was open for public comments. 

A of the meeting shows Owens repeatedly interrupting and silencing two constituents who stood at the podium to express their support for Councilman Harvey Curley, who has been involved in an ongoing dispute with the mayor. 

鈥淚 love Eastpointe. Eastpointe is my home,鈥 said Mary Hall-Rayford, a community activist, former chaplain, and school board member who attempted to speak at the meeting. 鈥淏ut every resident should have the freedom to express their thoughts about what happens in their community. Mayor Owens may not want to hear our feedback, but we have the right to speak up. Change doesn鈥檛 happen when people sit quietly.鈥

Mary Hall-Rayford is a plaintiff in FIRE's lawsuit against Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens
Mary Hall-Rayford is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens.

Owens claimed that discussion of her dispute with Curley would 鈥渞e-victimize鈥 her, and bellowed at Eastpointe resident Karen Beltz 鈥 a retired teacher, grandmother, and 40-year resident of Eastpointe who had never before spoken at a city council meeting 鈥 鈥淵ou鈥檙e not going to sit here and assault me, lady I never met!鈥

Owens ignored the advice of Eastpointe鈥檚 city attorney who reminded her that, under the First Amendment, members of the public have 鈥渇ree rein鈥 to discuss whatever topics they choose during their three-minute, public-comment period.

When a third Eastpointer, Karen Mouradjian, tried to criticize the mayor鈥檚 treatment of Hall-Rayford and Beltz, Owens shouted her down, too. Owens yelled at Mouradjian, who usually discusses animal welfare issues at city council meetings, saying that Mouradjian could 鈥渢alk about your cats and dogs in the community, but you won鈥檛 talk about me.鈥

COURTESY PHOTOS OF MARY HALL-RAYFORD

This wasn鈥檛 Owens鈥 first time suppressing criticism. In March, she Eastpointe resident Cindy Federle to alter her remarks to omit criticism of the mayor 鈥 Owens herself 鈥 and reframing it as criticism of 鈥渢he council鈥 or 鈥渢he body.鈥 Owens claimed, based on a city council policy 蜜桃社 is challenging, it is inappropriate to 鈥渄irect鈥 a comment at a particular individual. But at the prior meeting, Owens allowed a supporter to describe her as 鈥渂eautiful鈥 and 鈥渨onderful鈥 uninterrupted. 

It is unconstitutional for a mayor to suppress peaceful criticism in a public meeting. 蜜桃社鈥檚 lawsuit seeks to hold Owens accountable for viewpoint discrimination and for violating citizens鈥 constitutional rights, as well as to prevent her from censoring criticism going forward. 

鈥淭his is Michigan, not Moscow,鈥 said 蜜桃社 attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. 鈥淧ublic officials are elected to serve the people, not silence them. The First Amendment prohibits the government from requiring citizens to offer praise in order to be heard. 蜜桃社 is suing Owens to ensure that she no longer censors Eastpointers or tries to protect herself at the expense of the Constitution.鈥 

Today鈥檚 suit also challenges the unconstitutional city council policy prohibiting the public from directing comments at an individual member during the public-comment segment of council meetings. 

鈥淐ity council meetings aren鈥檛 safe spaces for elected officials,鈥 said 蜜桃社 attorney Harrison Rosenthal. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e opportunities for politicians to get honest feedback from the public. 蜜桃社 will make sure that Owens and other mayors tempted to abuse their authority get the message that the First Amendment trumps their ego.鈥

The 蜜桃社 (蜜桃社) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought 鈥 the most essential qualities of liberty. 蜜桃社 educates Americans about the importance of these inalienable rights, promotes a culture of respect for these rights, and provides the means to preserve them.

CONTACT
Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, 蜜桃社: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

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