DALLAS (CN) - After the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch spent $5 million defending its unconstitutional laws against immigrants, it decided to save money by privatizing its public library, and when a resident objected, the mayor and City Council booted him from the meeting, the man says.
Matt Wenthold seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, which he says stem from the city's and mayor's "well-deserved reputations for intolerance."
Wenthold sued Farmers Branch and Mayor Tim O'Hare in Federal Court. He says O'Hare and the city have "well deserved reputations for intolerance - whether to residents with Latin backgrounds or to those who oppose their policies."
Wenthold says that since O'Hare was elected to the City Council, "the city has adopted three politically charged immigration ordinances ... each of which was unlawfully adopted through a series of closed meetings, backroom deals, and off-the-record conversations."
In November 2006, Farmers Branch passed an ordinance banning landlords and apartment managers from leasing to undocumented immigrants. The ordinance, which threatened to fine landlords up to $500 a day for violations, was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge.
It's the anti-immigrant crusade that got the city into the financial mess that inspired it to try to privatize the library, Wenthold says.
"Beginning in 2006, O'Hare and the city embarked upon an inappropriate crusade to drive Hispanic immigrants from Farmers Branch as well as other costly and controversial pet projects," the complaint states.
Wenthold says Farmers Branch has spent more than $5 million in legal fees and may be liable for another $2 million in attorney's fees in the federal lawsuit challenging the rental ordinance.
He says that "after wasting millions of dollars on pet projects and litigation," the city decided to privatize the public library to cut city spending.
Wenthold, a former member of the library board, says Manske Library is "a pillar of the community" that "was considered by many residents of Farmers Branch to be the city's crown jewel." He claims the city "has waged a crusade against the library and its supporters," who decided to speak against the privatization at a November 2010 City Council meeting.
Wenthold says the City Council removed library board members who disagreed with its policies, and restricted pro-immigration activities and foreign language materials at the library.
Given the city's track record of making decisions behind closed doors, "supporters of the library feared that, prior to the meeting, the City Council had already decided to privatize the library," the complaint states.
Wenthold says when he "began to point out that the city's economic wounds were self-inflicted and did not justify privatization of the library, he was cut off mid-statement, publicly berated, and escorted out of the room by a police officer - all because he publicly questioned defendants' plan to privatize the library and its cause."
He says O'Hare became angry when Wenthold pointed out that the city had lied to its residents, claiming that insurance would cover the litigation fees for the immigration ordinances, and threatened to remove from the building anyone who criticized the council.
Wenthold says he was the only person to be escorted from the room by a police officer. "Defendants' actions had a substantial chilling effect on the audience," who chose not to speak out against the city's plan to privatize the library for fear of retaliation, he says.
Wenthold says O'Hare and the city violated his constitutional rights, and "the city does not have an interest - compelling, substantial, or otherwise - for its violation of Wenthold's First Amendment rights."
He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations. He is represented by William Brewer with Bickel & Brewer Storefront of Dallas.
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