The Bradley County Tea Party has hired attorney Stuart James to appear before the Cleveland City Council to protest actions of the council relating to a Tea Party flier.
Donny Harwood, Bradley Tea Party president, said, On June 18, the city of Cleveland’s Council members formally voted and directed that an investigation be conducted on members of the Tea Party of Bradley County for distributing political literature and opposition material to a proposed land use planning document.
"The city of Cleveland’s resolution and meeting minutes describe Mayor Tom Rowland’s motion that directed the city of Cleveland Police Department to investigate our membership for distributing information. The motion passed 7-0.
"The Tea Party of Bradley County has retained Attorney Stuart James to further our position that an elected body cannot criminalize political activity and direct investigations on political groups for their opposition to the actions of local government. It is the position of the Tea Party of Bradley County that the distribution of information cannot be criminalized by an out of control elected body.
"The Tea Party of Bradley County has no alternative. The city of Cleveland’s open intimidation of our membership and their infringement on our freedom to speak without reprisals must be addressed. We believe that any group that opposes the city of Cleveland will be subject to the same attempts to criminalize political activity."
Attorney James sent this letter to Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland:
Dear Mayor Rowland:
Our firm understands that there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the distribution of certain flyers in the City of Cleveland community by anonymous persons. We understand that there has been some controversy surrounding the flyers and involvement of the Tea Party of Bradley County in the distribution of the flyers. The flyers apparently involve the development plan supported by certain political leaders of the City of Cleveland. We also understand that the plan that is opposed by many residents of the city. We believe that there will be political and factual statements in the future both supporting and opposing the plan.
We also received the minutes from a City Council meeting where the City Council speaks about the flyer and its distribution. Apparently, the City Council feels that it can launch an investigation into the flyers by asking law enforcement officials to officially investigate whether a law has been broken.
Additionally, it appears that the City Council does not agree with the efforts of those who oppose the plan and with the contents of the flyers. What concerns the Tea Party of Bradley County and its President Donny Harwood is the constitutionality of the City Council's actions in asking for an official law enforcement investigation involving the exercise of political free speech.
As you know, political free speech is protected by the Tennessee and United States Constitutions. Although free speech is not an absolute right, free speech is protected. Moreover, free speech is protected from retaliatory actions by governmental bodies, such as the City Council. Therefore, any resolution attempting to undermine those rights is in and of itself, constitutionally suspect.
Moreover, the City Council may have exceeded its authority and may have violated the Constitution of the United States of America and the Tennessee Constitution attempting to pass a resolution designed to stop the exercise of free speech.