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Council Member Says City Muzzling Him

NORFOLK (CN) — A Portsmouth, Va. city Council member says the city violated his free speech rights by fining him for a Facebook post about a confidential meeting.

In a complaint filed in the city's circuit court, Councilman William Moody Jr. says he received a letter from Mayor Kenneth Wright dated Jan. 28, 2016, telling him that he was being fined $1,500 for

"public communication of information relayed by the City Attorney that was not otherwise publicly known."

According to court documents, Moody believes the disciplinary action was either voted on during an illegal secret meeting of the City Council, or that no official meeting was ever held.

In either case, he says, his fellow city council members violated open meeting rules and requirements set forth in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Moody says the mayor told him the supposed leak of confidential materials came from one of Moody's Facebook posts which stated, "Was informed that our Confederate War Monument will be discussed in closed session tonight as it pertains to the Danville Case. (It) appears that the issue of removing it is still in play."

However, according to court documents, there was nothing confidential or secret about the general nature of the subject to be discussed in a closed City Council meeting, as revealed by the written "Portsmouth City Council Motion for a Closed Meeting" dated December 8, 2015.

It specifically advised that there would be a closed meeting "for the purpose of consultation with legal counsel pertaining to actual or probable litigation ... specifically regarding the relocation of the Confederate Monument at the intersection of Court Street and High Street."

Moody contends that this being the case, his Facebook post did not reveal anything confidential, did not state anything that could be damaging to the city or city council, and did not violate any rule or other legal requirement.

Moody's lawyer wrote to the Portsmouth city attorney and individual co-members and requested information relating to the fine, but never received a response, the complaint says.

Danny Meeks, another member of the Portsmouth City Council, was similarly disciplined by the city in February 2016.

The rule Moody and Meeks were accused of violating states, "The confidentiality of matters discussed in closed session shall not be violated by any City Council Member, nor anyone else in attendance e.g. the City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk, City Auditor, and City Assessor, nor by any of their representatives. No Audio visual recording devices shall be permitted to be used in closed session."

On March 8, 2016, a motion to repeal the restrictions and disciplinary systems failed to pass on a 3-3 tie.

"The purported speech restrictions in the rule as applied to Moody, violate free speech rights and are unduly vague, ambiguous a violate due process," the complaint says.

Moody asked the court to rule that the speech restrictions and discipline procedures are unconstitutional.

He also seeks an injunction to prevent and restrain any further violations of his free speech and due process rights, and to prevent.

Representatives of the parties could not immediately be reached for comment.

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