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Yardley officials sued for deleting Facebook post


Yardley Borough lawyers and other officials are working to settle a federal lawsuit filed by resident Earl Markey, who claimed his First Amendment free speech rights were violated when officials deleted one of his posts from the borough Facebook page. The post has since been restored.

Markey led a petition drive that resulted in a referendum being placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot that asks residents whether the size of borough council should be reduced from seven to five members.

Markey and others feel that reducing the size would, among other advantages, lessen the impact of so many elected council members’ resigning and being replaced by appointees. His post on the borough Facebook Page referred to council member Matt Curtin, who has twice been appointed but never elected, as an “unelected, out of touch investment banker” and goes on to urge voters to vote yes on the referendum.

After the post was removed, Markey filed a complaint in federal court in Philadelphia naming the borough, Curtin, council President Caroline Thompson, Borough Manager Paula Johnson and Code Enforcement Officer Wesley Foraker.

It seeksmonetary damages to be determined, payment of Markey’s court costs, an order permanently enjoining borough officials and employees from removing Markey’s Facebook posts and other relief.

He said the borough’s removal of the post was “particularly egregious” because a post advocating an opposing view on the referendum had been allowed.

“Removing comments that are protected by the First Amendment from public social media pages is a blatant civil rights violation,” Markey said in a press release. “Public officials across the country should take notice and tread carefully. Censoring protected speech from official social media pages may quickly land you in federal court in these circumstances.”

He also sought an emergency hearing on the matter that had been scheduled for Oct. 31 but was called off after the borough agreed to repost Markey’s comment, reimburse him for the court filing fee and name the officials who administrate the Facebook page, Thompson explained at the Nov. 1 council meeting.

“While the TRO (hearing to consider a temporary restraining order) was canceled, the lawsuit is still pending,” Thompson explained.

At the council meeting, she also distributed a draft borough social media policy that covers, among other items, what is appropriate for borough staff members and elected officials to post both on their own personal Facebook pages and on the borough page. No vote on the policy was taken. Thompson said she is seeking input on it and invited suggested edits.

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Yardley Borough