By Miriam Raftery
June 27, 2011 (Alpine) – San Diego County Counsel Thomas Montgomery has barred the Alpine Planning Group from removing Louis Russo, a member. The board had attempted to oust Russo after he wrote an article published online in the Alpine Community Network criticizing recent board decisions and suggesting that the planning group may need to be disbanded.
“The ACPG cannot sanction or remove Mr. Russo in an effort to silence him for excercising his constitutionally protected right to free speech,” said Sarah Abshear, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) San Diego office.
She added, “People don’t lose their free speech rights when they are elected or appointed to an advisory group. If anything, members of an advisory group are more informed about the group than the general public, and it is important to our system of government that citizens be able to hear their criticism.”
In a letter sent to the Alpine Planning Group, the ACLU stated that the group’s attempt to sanction Russo was unconstitutional, along with any further retaliation attempts.
Following Russo’s article, the group voted on May 26, 2011 to find Russo absent and unexcused for its April meeting –even though he was physically present at that meeting, the ACLU noted. Because he had two previous absences, a third absence would have allowed the group to remove him.
Since then, County Counsel Montgomery has sent the ACLU a reply on June 22, with a copy to APCG members, making clear that the County would stand behind Russo’s constitutional rights. “The Alpine Community Planning Group will not remove Mr. Russo, or take any other action against him based upon the May 26, 2011 finding of an unexcused absence for the April 2011 meeting,” Montgomery’s letter said.