FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Dave Roland
November 10, 2020 (314) 604-6621
Government Watchdog Sues City for Banning Her From City Hall
Mexico, Missouri—Rebecca Varney worked so hard to keep the local government in Edgar Springs, Missouri, transparent and accountable to the community that the government banned her from City Hall. In a new lawsuit filed by the Freedom Center of Missouri, Varney has decided to fight “City Hall” for the right to go to City Hall.
“If government is mismanaging or abusing its authority, the people need to know,” said Varney. “I led a successful petition drive for an audit that exposed all kinds of problems and I spent many days at City Hall exercising my right to review public records so I could inform the community about what the City was doing.”
But city officials were unhappy to have such a vocal critic constantly looking over their shoulders, so they came up with a novel, if unconstitutional, solution. The Chief of Police sent Varney a notice saying that if she came back to City Hall—the only location at which the City keeps its records—she would be cited for trespassing. City officials took this step in spite of there being no law that allows them to do so, and they never gave Varney any opportunity to contest or appeal their decision.
“Governments are not allowed to make up laws as they go,” said Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, which is representing Varney in her lawsuit. “The City hasn’t accused Varney of doing anything illegal—in fact, she was merely exercising rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the Missouri Constitution, and the Sunshine Law. And yet the City decided to single her out for punishment because she was vigorously exercising those rights.”
The City’s actions against Varney implicate a broad array of constitutional and legal concerns. Courts have long held that governments may not retaliate against citizens simply because they are exercising constitutional liberties, such as the freedom of expression or the right to petition government officials for redress of grievances. Missouri law also guarantees citizens the right to personally inspect public records—indeed, the law says that an official who denies a citizen that right has committed a misdemeanor and is “subject to removal or impeachment.” Furthermore, the way in which Edgar Springs has singled Varney out for punishment denies her equal protection of the laws and violates her right to due process.
“Citizens must be free not only to investigate what the government is doing in their name and with their taxpayer dollars, but also to share their findings without fear of retaliation,” Roland said. “The Freedom Center is standing with Ms. Varney in order to prove once and for all that when the government violates your rights you can, indeed, fight City Hall.”
Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and transparent, accountable, constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for free speech and government transparency; this is the Freedom Center’s ninth case dealing with the freedom of expression and its twelfth Sunshine Law case. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
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