In regard to the commentary by Blawnox Mayor Tom Smith ("This Is Not About Free Speech," Jan. 5 Perspectives): What can the public do when local government fails to acknowledge serious problems confronting a community? This is the important question raised by the case of Peggy Albright, who was arrested for speaking out at a Blawnox council meeting.
For many years, Blawnox citizens have been beset by a number of serious problems, such as: (1) four life-threatening accidents (in the past two years) at the borough's main gas station, which fails to comply with state and local codes; (2) dangerous conditions in the business district, caused by deficient street lighting, deteriorating sidewalks, crumbling curbs, heavy traffic and trucks rapidly speeding along the borough's main street; (3) plans to borrow $3 million without public approval, to reconstruct the borough building.
Some business and property owners have voiced their concerns at council meetings, unfortunately to no avail. Indeed, when Ms. Albright inquired about a near-catastrophic accident at the gas station, she was arrested and charged with disrupting the meeting. Although this charge was later dismissed by Judge Gerald Bigley in the Court of Common Pleas, the decision is being appealed to the state Superior Court. Thus, Ms. Albright may still face 90 days in jail.
Ms. Albright's case demonstrates that free speech is not merely a legal right, but about the only means by which the public can ensure that government functions effectively. Thus, citizens have not only the right but also the obligation to speak up when elected officials fail to address serious problems in the community they serve. Otherwise, the entire community suffers.