Thursday September 27, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union has fought far nobler causes than the one it is fighting on behalf of North Adams political gadfly Robert Cardimino, but its argument that Mr. Cardimino's free speech rights have been violated is valid.

Mr. Cardimino was removed from City Council chambers in March for displaying a sign, and during the citizens forum section of the June 12 meeting he instructed Councilor Marie Harpin to "pay her taxes," prompting council President Michael Bloom to declare him out of order. He reportedly continued to make these accusations after the meeting and crossed a gate separating the council from the public gallery. The city then issued a no trespassing order requiring Mr. Cardimino to stay away from City Hall property.

Mr. Cardimino, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council last year, was off target in his gripe with Ms. Harpin. She is not on a list of delinquent taxpayers but had received an overdue notice from the city. Two days later, according to the city's administrative officer, Ms. Harpin paid her tax bill. End of story.

According to a North Adams-based ACLU lawyer, Mr. Cardimino's comments came in the context of councilors' alleged "failure to sufficiently review the city budget before approving it." Although we fail to see any connection between Mr. Cardi mino's outburst and the political context cited, denying free speech rights to one person opens the door to denying the free speech rights of someone whose cause is more legitimate. Protecting that constitutional right means putting up with a lot, and making a free speech hero out of Mr. Cardimino is not desirable.

The council should ban signs from the chambers (the Pittsfield City Council should make sure there is such a ban in a revamped charter) and if the police have to be called to deal with an unruly resident, so be it. Let's leave the First Amendment out of this issue.