In last week’s CVN, a commentator chided a borough employee for her paid commentary regarding the manager appointment. The quote: “as an employee it’s not your place to publicly criticize how your employer operates.” I disagree.

In Lane v. Franks, the Supreme Court reiterated that public employees do not relinquish their First Amendment rights as a condition of government employment. The Court stated, “there is considerable value…in encouraging, rather than inhibiting, speech by public employees” because “government employees are often in the best position to know what ails the agencies for which they work.” Thus, established Court precedent protects public employee speech when the interest of the employee in speaking as a citizen on matters of public concern outweighs the government employer’s interest in providing efficient public services through its employees. This rule applies to speech highly critical of a government employer’s policies and decisions. However, the rule does not apply when the employee is speaking pursuant to their normal job duties, or when the speech is a private matter related to the workplace.

Applying this rule, the process of appointing a borough manager is undoubtedly a matter of public concern. Additionally, the borough employee was not speaking pursuant to her normal job duties, but as a citizen and former reporter. Therefore, she had a right as a citizen to criticize how the appointment decision was made unless it can be proven the borough’s interest in providing efficient public services was sufficiently threatened to justify abridging her free speech rights.

Mike Denker