2016-04-07 / News

City’s complaint about Facebook post has local man appealing to ACLU

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — A local man filed a request for action from the American Civil Liberties Union following a March 24 incident in which City Manager James Bennett asked him at a city council meeting to remove an incorrect Facebook post about skyrocketing property taxes.

Dennis Munroe sought ACLU action a day later, writing that Bennett “immediately in a stern voice which seemed threatening told me to remove a post on Facebook.”

Munroe wrote in his request to the ACLU. “I told him, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about as I share a lot of posts.’ … Then he said the post about tax hikes at 30 percent was wrong. I told him that I share many posts and that is was not something that I wrote and he continued to tell me to take it down, his face was getting red, then he walked away and went directly to Mayor (Alan) Casavant and told him that I was taking it down.”

Bennett said Munroe had posted false information claiming that the city’s mil rate would increase by 30 percent under the city manager’s proposed budget, when in fact, it would only increase 30 cents, or 1.5 percent per $1,000 of valuation..

“I told him, ‘If you want to have any credibility, you will remove the post because it’s factually incorrect,’” Bennett said.

Munroe said the way Bennett approached him seemed threatening and an infringement on his free speech.

“I feel I was singled out and threatened by them,” Munroe said. “People are afraid to go to meetings at city hall (because) of threats and bullying by the mayor and city councilors.”

Bennett said he didn’t intend to come across as threatening, but was concerned about misinformation being spread about a 30 percent increase to the mil rate.

“Some members of the community that I would classify as being outside of the political arena were contacting me,” Bennett said.

Bennett said seniors, many of whom would rather pay their taxes than receive other services available to them, because “they are too proud,” were contacting him concerned about a 30 percent budget increase.

“If Dennis feels that I was being threatening in any way, then I will apologize to him directly,” Bennett said.

Rachel Healy, director of communications and public education at ACLU, said the group’s lawyers had not had a chance to review Munroe’s request to determine whether the organization would take legal action.

“That process can take as much as 60 days,” she said.

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