(File Photo) Patrick Duff addresses City Council during a meeting on October 16, 2014. (Image from City of Phila. TV)
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local activist has filed a federal lawsuit against Philadelphia City Council claiming that Council violates the First Amendment by limiting the topics of speeches made during its weekly meetings.
Activist Patrick Duff has, for the past few weeks, made speeches in City Council that push Council’s limits on public speaking. Specifically, you’re only supposed to speak about bills that are up for a vote, and Duff intentionally went beyond that. On Thursday, Duff upped the ante by announcing in his speech that he was suing Council over the rules.
“I just want to present you with this,” he said. “This is a lawsuit against the city that I had to file because you don’t allow open public comment.”
Duff’s suit, filed in federal court, alleges that Council’s public speaking rules violate citizens’ rights.
“I’m sure everybody would like to speak openly in the city,” Duff said. “What this does is allow people to have open public comment, as the (state) Sunshine Act and the First Amendment allow us to do.”
With a different view is Darryl Zaslow, the attorney who four years won a State Supreme Court decision that forced Council to have any public speeches. He says the legality of Council’s current rules is unclear — and there are arguments to be made on both sides.
“It is by no means a clear cut win on either side,” Zaslow said. “The right to speak is very clear on matters of concern which are coming before the council or are before the council. The courts have interpreted that sometimes very narrowly, which does give City Council the right to make the claim that they do have the right to limit it.”
However, Zaslow believes that most suburban municipalities do allow unrestricted public comment.
“In every surrounding township and county,” he said, “they do take their citizens to give testimony on any issues which may be of concern.”
A City Council official says Duff’s lawsuit has been referred to the city Law Department. In an earlier statement on the question, a council spokesperson said the Law Department believes Council’s public comment rules are in compliance with the Sunshine Act and the First Amendment. Prior to Zaslow’s legal battle, which ended in 2010 with a state Supreme Court decision, Council allowed public comment only at committee hearings, not at its full weekly meetings.
A Moline, Illinois man filmed his votes on an electronic voting machine erroneously switching to the Democrat candidate after he had selected his preferred Republican candidate.
The man explains that he had heard about the machines having problems on the news and decided to film when it started happening to him. The clip shows the error happening in two separate categories.
Some who have watched the video posted to YouTube say the man’s fingers are touching too high on the display and therefore he is to blame for the error. Slow motion frames are included in the video for added clarity. Perhaps the angle of the camera lends to the uncertainty.
County Clerk Karen Kinney, as indicated in the video, assured that “there is nothing wrong” and believes because only Republicans are complaining, it must be a part of some larger conspiracy. She also cites “human error” — recalling a woman with “three-inch long fingernails” complaining that her GOP votes were switching to Democrat.
However, this is not the first complaint of its kind. Another Illinois county experienced the same problem in its local library Monday.
WASHINGTON (KDKA/AP)- Two “Stop the Violence” organizers allegedly beat one of their colleagues so severely that he vomited blood and was left unconscious in critical condition.
Nikole Ardeno and Emanuel Velez, both 30, accused their former roommate of stealing their property, and allegedly punched and kicked him in the street until he had seizures. Arrested moments later, Ardeno was still wearing the same “Stop the Violence” T-shirt she had on the night before when she coordinated a march protesting two recent shootings, Washington Police Chief Chris Luppino said.
The victim, Joshua Magraff, also is a community organizer with the anti-violence group, and shared an apartment with the suspects until recently.
Magraff had severe injuries and is in critical condition.
The beating took place in the 1000-block of Jefferson Avenue in Washington just before 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Police believe Ardeno and Velez attacked Magraff on Tuesday because he had gone to the apartment they had shared to collect his belongings. Ardeno and Velez had come to a police station about 20 minutes earlier, accusing Magraff of burglary, but police said he appeared to be taking only items that belonged to him as he moved out, Luppino said.
Local “Stop the Violence” leader Suzanne Kelley said she hopes to hear from Ardeno, and insisted that “we don’t promote violence at all.”
“I can’t believe this is going on. I don’t want the community to get a negative effect from this because they back us,” Kelley said.
Magraff was still unconscious and in critical condition Wednesday at UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh, Luppino said. A hospital spokeswoman declined to provide an update Thursday, citing a policy against releasing information about crime victims.
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — Pennsylvania state senator LeAnna Washington plans to resign from office tomorrow, after pleading guilty today to a felony charge related to a political corruption investigation.
She had little time left in her term as state senator anyway. She lost a primary re-election fight about two months after she was indicted. She gets to keep her pension, but was ordered to pay back $200,000 to taxpayers.
Washington, 69, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, pleaded guilty today to a conflict-of-interest charge. She admitted using state senate staffers and other resources to plan campaign fundraisers.
Washington was sentenced to five years’ probation, the first three months to be spent on house arrest.
She apologized for her actions:
“I’ve always been known to stand up for what I believe in and what it is right, however this resolution is the best decision for my constituents (and) my family,” she said.
Judge Steven O’Neill accepted the negotiated sentence but scolded Washington for being the latest in a line of elected officials who have tainted the exemplary work that other public officials perform. He told her that history will remember how she left office, not what she did while she was there.
County Mayor Bill Webb, who took office last month after his election in August, told Tennessee Watchdog Thursday the problems outlined in the audit occurred during the administration of former mayor Van Ward.
When Watchdog called a published number for Ward’s Hohenwald home Thursday, a recording said the number had been disconnected.
Wilson’s audit admonished the Sheriff’s Department for its handling of the confidential drug enforcement funds
“The sheriff advised us that these expenditures were for drug awareness; however, we questioned if these transactions should have been disbursed from confidential funds,” the audit said. “The confidential drug bank account should only be used to provide confidential funds for drug agents for the purpose of making drug buys, paying confidential informants, and other confidential related expenses.”
Webb told Watchdog he knew nothing about the drug money transfers. “I don’t know anything about that,” Webb said. “I will have to look at the report again.”
Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick, overseer of the drug funds, was not available Thursday
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
WHAT ARE THEY REALLY UP TO: Money meant for undercover drug buys went to the Ladies Golf Association, according to an audit.Lewis County Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick, who oversaw the undercover drug enforcement program, was unavailable Thursday.
The audit also faults county officials for reportedly paying invoices for engineering services late, resulting in interest charges to taxpayers of $7,416.
Among the other findings:
County officials purchased a new John Deere backhoe for $57,600, soliciting and receiving only one bid. Taxpayers may have lost out on a more competitive price.
County officials failed to solicit competitive bids for the replacement of field lights at Memorial Park that cost $35,000.
Several county commissioners failed to make public their county employment when voting on budget amendments for the departments that employed them.
Webb defended the commissioners, several of whom were highway department officials and school system employees. “They didn’t do anything illegal, ” Webb said, “except they just didn’t think to disclose it.”
Photo courtesy of Lewis County's official website.
“They voted on some financial things that probably didn’t have any effect on their salary but because they voted on it they found they should have made a disclaimer publicly and of course we are making sure that happens now.”
UPDATE:After the initial publication of this article, Kilpatrick told Tennessee Watchdog that somewhere between $50 to $100 went to the Ladies Golf Association and the American Legion Youth Program. This money paid for signs designed to encourage kids to stay off drugs, Kilpatrick said.
“This money came from what we seized from drug dealers. There was no taxpayer money,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick would not say how much money his office has seized.
Teachers and students gather at a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers rally decrying education cuts.
By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org
In the remaining weeks of the heated gubernatorial battle for the Keystone State, Pennsylvania’s teachers’ unions have been incredibly vocal and outright blatant about which candidate they prefer in the Governor’s Mansion.
For the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, one of the most powerful public-sector unions in the country, they’ve done this beyond their traditional political committee, raising some questions about how the union uses money collected from Philadelphia teachers required to pay dues.
In a series of video advertisements and campaign mailings, they have pushed for the election of Democratic businessman Tom Wolf over incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, all using their own logo and branding and spending big bucks to make their point.
Witnessed in this most recent action video last week from the American Federation of Teachers, community leaders, teachers and even students are seen rallying up the crowd made up of PFT union members and encouraging a vote for Wolf in the Nov. 4 election.
AFT President Randi Weingarten makes a cameo appearance and gives a whirling speech. “If you believe any of this is unfair, what are we going to do in November? And who are we going to vote for?” she asks. “Wolf!” responds the crowd in unison.
Much more than individual videos on their YouTube page, PFT has taken out its own ads blasting Corbett and favoring his political opponent. “Tom Corbett has been devastating to the public education system,” claims the voice-over in the most recent ad.
Just in the month of September, PFT took out over $114,000 in daytime andprimetime advertisements, all aimed at attacking Corbett and calling voters to arms. According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly all of these ads have been classified as “non-candidate issue ads,” but they have been anything but.
The same can be said for printed ads sent out to homes across the state.
A recent campaign flyer from the AFT branch in Pennsylvania publicly recommends Wolf for governor, showing a checklist for all issues including education spending, tax fairness and financial security. Apart from the AFT logo in the corner of the page, one would assume it is blatant political advertising.
True to form, in May the political arm of AFT donated over $450,000 to Wolf’s campaign. Whether such a move was approved by the majority of local teachers’ unions in Pennsylvania is unclear.
A call to PFT’s office for comment wasn’t returned.
A former Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace has been indicted on several corruption-related crimes weeks after he stepped down from office.
Records reveal that Ismael “Melo” Ochoa has been indicted on charges of bribery, engaging in organized criminal activity and money laundering charges.
The former Hidalgo County Pct. 3-2 Justice of the Peace appeared before Judge Noe Gonzalez in the 370th State District Court on Thursday morning.
Although his next court date was not immediately available, Ochoa was allowed to stay free on a personal recognizance bond.
A copy of the indictment reveals that Ochoa worked with Hargill-based drug trafficker Julio Armando Davila between September 2010 and June 2012.
Davila, who was reportedly working with a bail bond company at the time, bribed Ochoa to get bond reductions for his clients.
The Hargill drug trafficker has been linked to other corruption cases including his ex-girlfriend/former Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office investigator Aida Palacios as well as former Sheriff Lupe Treviño and his former commander Joe Padilla.
According to the indictment, Ochoa is accused of laundering between $20,000 and $100,000 dollars in profits from the bond reduction scheme.
Ochoa stepped down from office back on October 10th despite running unopposed in the November General Election.
His name must remain on the ballot but Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said in a previous interiview that Ochoa agreed to decline the office after the results come in.
Former Peñitas Mayor Marcos Ochoa has been appointed as an interim justice of the peace.
Davila is expected to be sentenced for a federal drug trafficking case on November 13th.
Statement from Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia:
“I was extremely disappointed to hear of the criminal charges made against former Precinct 3, Place 2 Justice of the Peace Ismael “Melo” Ochoa.
As an elected official, I know that our constituents have entrusted us to put the community first and to do what is right. When this type of conduct takes hold, it destroys that sense of fairness critical for the rule of law to prevail. We must work even harder to not only regain the public’s trust, but to prove that we are worthy of it.
We have over 3,000 dedicated public servants in Hidalgo County – whether elected, appointed or hired as staff. The great majority are individuals of integrity.
As for Judge Ochoa, I wish him and his family well and will withhold further comment. I trust in our judicial system to see that justice prevails.”