ACLU Urges Ironwood Officials to Uphold the Free Speech Rights of Public Employees

June 04, 2010

IRONWOOD, MICH. – In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Ironwood Department of Public Safety to uphold the free speech rights of a firefighter who was threatened with discipline and termination for writing letters to the editor that were critical of city government.

Ken Jacobson, an Ironwood firefighter for almost three decades, was threatened with disciplinary action after writing four letters to the editors of superiorchronicle.com, ironwoodinfo.com and the Daily Globe. The first two letters suggested that poor snow plowing in Ironwood, especially in contrast to neighboring Hurley, might hurt business in Ironwood, and questioned the city manager’s efforts to address the problem. In the third letter, Jacobson thanked the city workers for their plowing efforts and the final letter was critical of a Daily Globe article. Jacobson wrote all of the letters on his own time and did not represent himself as a city employee.

In its letter, the ACLU of Michigan urged city officials to rescind its threat of disciplinary action and reminded the city officials of a similar lawsuit that the ACLU of Michigan won in 2003. In that case, a federal judge ruled that a Frenchtown Charter Township ordinance that barred firefighters from speaking to the news media about any “fire department matters” — including matters of public concern — was unconstitutional.

The following can be attributed to Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director:

“City officials cannot silence Mr. Jacobson simply because he is a public employee and because they don’t like what he has to say. Mr. Jacobson should not fear losing his job for exercising his constitutional right to express himself on matters of public concern. We truly hope that the city will rescind its threat to discipline Mr. Jacobson and that we may resolve this matter amicably without the need to go to court. The men and women who honorably serve our communities deserve far better and should not be retaliated against for bringing issues of public concern to light.”

To read the ACLU’s letter, click here.

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