Westfield to pay costs in free speech lawsuit

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Westfield’s city solicitor told the 22News I-Team that the city will pay the costs of a lawsuit against Mayor Daniel Knapik.

Knapik was sued after being accused of ordering signs for Municipal Light Board Member Jane Wensley and City Councilor David Flaherty to be removed from a certain location, claiming they were safety hazards to drivers during the October 2011 snowstorm clean up.

“It’s important to understand that the ACLU signed off on an agreement that says unintentional violation, unintentional, when they started with private property, intentional act, that’s a huge giveback on their part to have signed off on this agreement,” Mayor Knapik said.

Earlier this year, a Federal District Court Judge ruled that by having the signs removed, the Mayor violated Wensley’s and Flaherty’s first amendment rights.

Knapik accepted the ruling on Monday.

City Solicitor Susan Phillips told 22News that the city will pay because the wording in the agreement was that the violation was “not intentional”.

“Our own city ordinance tell us that we indemnify unless it was intentional, grossly negligent or willful conduct, so I look at the document which is really short so it’s easy and I see that the court says it was not intentional,” Phillips said.

Westfield City Councilor David Flaherty was one of those whose signs were removed, and says he still doesn’t believe this was about safety.

“That was an excuse used by the mayor after the fact, these signs were not anywhere near anything that needed to be cleaned up and I know because I was out there cleaning up,” Flaherty said.

Phillips said she will likely not have to get City Council approval, because they already approved her budget and as long as she doesn’t go over budget, she won’t need their approval.

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