FREEPORT — An anonymous newsletter that attacks and offends some townspeople has prompted the Town Council to consider the legal ramifications of removing or banning anonymous printed material from municipal buildings.

The council issued a statement last month condemning the newsletter A Crow’s Nest after getting legal opinions that said the publication is protected free speech. The council is scheduled to discuss what more it can do when it meets at 6:30 tonight.

“The council feels that it is necessary and appropriate to state, in no uncertain terms, that the town of Freeport does not condone or support the views and opinions explicitly stated or depicted in this publication,” the council said in a Dec. 20 written statement.

“It is also within the Town Council’s purview to express the strong belief that expressions of this nature are inappropriate, hateful and harmful to the process of civil public discourse,” the council said. “The council urges the author(s) to exercise their First Amendment rights in a manner that is respectful of individuals and which does not imply violence inspired by hatred or slanderous accusations.”

A Crow’s Nest is an occasional self-described news parody without an identified source or author that has lampooned town officials and others for more than 25 years.

It favors certain people and loathes others, identifying them with unflattering photos of celebrities, characters or animals. The photos, headlines and news items appear to have been cut and pasted onto photocopied pages. It makes fun of what people have said and done around town and at council meetings, sometimes using off-color language and suggesting inappropriate behavior.

Recent editions drew public complaints and led town officials to seek legal opinions on what actions could be taken against the newsletter. The edition that came out after the November election suggested that a town employee “should be hanged,” “after a short trial,” “by order of the Grand Wizard.” It included photos of a lynching and a Ku Klux Klan member.

Margie Berkovich, an investigator with the state attorney general’s office, reviewed a copy of the newsletter and determined that it wasn’t actionable under the Maine Civil Rights Act.

“For the content of the newsletter to be actionable, it would have to contain a direct threat against a specific individual,” Berkovich wrote on Nov. 23. “Despite its offensive nature, the author of the newsletter is doing nothing more than engaging in First Amendment speech.”

Geoffrey Hole, the town’s attorney, and Richard Flewelling, assistant director of legal services at the Maine Municipal Association, each wrote letters advising town officials against removing anonymous publications from Town Hall.

However, they left some leeway to remove potentially libelous materials that target private citizens.

 


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