While the Town alleges that employees have been intimidated, the Town admitted in an earlier OD article that "public safety was not in jeopardy." It is clear from Ms. Lawrence's blogpost "Using Scare Tactics," however, that it was she who felt intimidated.
Concerned Citizens has been in the forefront of getting New Hartford information out to the taxpayers and voters and exposing the workings of Town government, sometimes with embarrassing effectiveness. They forced public votes on issues that the Town Board rubber-stamped when they had a petition drive that successfully placed several bonding proposals on the ballot. They used legal processes when necessary to get the Town to "do the right thing," such as when they filed a Notice of Claim against the Stormwater Group, which forced its meetings to be opened to the public after a year behind closed doors.
In sum, Concerned Citizens has been a royal pain in New Hartford's governmental butt. . . But they were clearly working for the people, not themselves, because there is no personal gain from their activities.
The same cannot be said for Town Government. Meetings continue to be held behind closed doors, deals that appear to favor private interests continue to be made . . . and now retaliation may be in the offing.
If the Town files suit against these individuals, it would be a SLAPP -- A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- per Wikipedia:
. . . a lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.Is that what the Town of New Hartford is proposing to do? That would not be just a SLAPP against Concerned Citizens, it would be a slap against every Town resident.
According to New York Supreme Court Judge J. Nicholas Colabella, "Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined."
4/24/09 Update: Looks like Concerned Citizens won't be backed down.