Tag Archives: Hamburg

Hamburg and the Constitution

10 May

The right to blog anonymously is a right. The Hamburg School District is trampling all over that right, and sends a poor message to the students it purports to represent

I have never read the “Hamburg Educational Ethics” blog, which is written by the “Concerned Hamburger” anonym, but whoever writes it is a WNY blogger and, as far as I’m concerned, a colleague. 

I don’t know the first thing about what goes on in the Hamburg schools, but I know that the district doesn’t have to like what the author of that blog writes – in fact, they can hate it. But that doesn’t give them the right to serve a subpoena to “out” its author. 

Criticism of a school district is, after all, political speech – in 1st Amendment jurisprudence, political speech is afforded the very highest protection from government intervention or harassment. It is unconscionable that the district – which is a government entity – is so blatantly violating the 1st Amendment in an attempt to silence a critic. This is the stuff dictatorships do. It is absolutely unacceptable in this country. 

One of the blog’s anonymous commenters, who is also subject to the district’s subpoena, wrote this

Dear Readers….

Recently Concerned Hamburger received an email notification from Google indicating that the Hamburg School District, through their attorney Dick Sullivan of Harris Beach~ a commercial real estate attorney moonlighting in education and constitutional law~issued a subpoena to Google demanding the identities of Concerned Hamburger, Super and Klozman.  Immediately, Concerned, Super and Klozman, remaining anonymous,  hired a constitutional attorney to quash the subpoena.  You see readers~ we have the right in this country to voice our opinions and state the facts as we see them.  For almost three years and approximately 300K page hits, Concerned Hamburger has been operating as a citizen journalist reporting on the antics of the public faces of the Hamburg School District. Concerned is dedicated to reporting, and will continue to write on the school district despite their efforts to silence me and others.  It has been reported to Concerned Hamburger by many sources, that Dr. Joan Calkins has a vindictive and demonic alter ego.  Joan’s “other self ” has reported thoughout the Hamburg Community that she will unmask Concerned Hamburger, and she will cause financial harm to the victims of frivolous and baseless lawsuits she and Steve concocted.  Fortunately, turn around is fair play, and it seems that the plans of the District, the Bored of Education, Mr. Abramovitch and others will have unintended consequence never deemed fathomable on the onset of their witch hunt.  

Frankly, if the behavior of the the Bored of Education and Mr. Achramovitch was not so egregiously corrupt, there would be no material to report.  Instead, you the reader~of which there are many~ have been give factual, and sometimes humorous, accounts of the insidious behavior. 

Concerned Hamburger has already spent thousands of dollars attempting to protect their rights, and it is likely the the district has spent tens of thousands on this witch hunt.   This latest stunt by Steve and Joan et. al. should shock the conscience of any reader.  Taxpayer dollars intended to go to children to support a fair and balanced education in accordance with NYS Constitutional Law instead is being used to strip  Federal and State Constitutional rights from private citizens- who are taxpayers. Steven Achramovitch ought to be fired immediately, and charges should be filed against each and every board member individually and collectively. A groundswell of anti-Joan and Steve support it growing across this community, and it appears this is only the beginning. 


Concerned Hamburger 

That’s the nice thing about the 1st Amendment’s protection of political speech – if you don’t blatantly libel someone (that is, knowingly or negligently publishing a false statement of fact, depending on whether the subject is a public figure or not), you can write whatever you want. For instance, the author above refers to people as  “corrupt”, “frivolous”, “vindictive” and “demonic”. Those are statements of opinion, not fact, and opinion cannot be false or true – it is protected speech. 

A quick scan of the front page of the blog reveals recitations of facts dealing with school policy and budgeting, and opinion about those facts. Nothing appears to be defamatory or otherwise actionable. The fact that the district took action against the bloggers and not individual members who feel insulted helps enhance the Constitutional issue.

Bloggers have rights with their foundation in the 1st Amendment.  Anonymity is sometimes used by bloggers to shield them from repercussions at work. In 1995, the Supreme Court held that anonymous speech is protected speech

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

The Federalist Papers were written by anonyms. The Hamburg school blog may be no Federalist Papers, but it is still important to protect anonymous political speech, and the district’s efforts to use the courts to chill speech critical of it is reprehensible. 

While a minority of western New Yorkers expresses weeks’ worth of righteous Constitutional outrage over a gun law that only slightly tightens what were already the most restrictive gun laws in the country, this – this infringement on protected political speech deserves at least the same reaction.  

Perhaps the district’s social studies teachers can add this to their curriculum. 

Banning Stuff

14 Aug


Until now, businesses needed a zoning variance from the town of Hamburg in order to install one of those scrolling LED signs. Now, they’re writing a town ordinance,

Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters says now town officials are close to completing a new ordinance that would allow the electronic signs, but also regulate them.

“You can’t use any animation, any full animation, any full video, you can’t do anything that’s flashing, anything that’s scrolling, basically things that would distract motorists.”

Just about anything can distract a motorist, and if flashing lights count, we should ban turn signals. I generally don’t point and yell “nanny state” at everything, but this is just silly.

Small Mindedness in Small Doses can have Huge Consequences

28 May


Via Bruce Andriatch’s column today, I find this recount of Kevin Gaughan’s “The Cost” tour’s stop in the Village of Blasdell:

we arrived in Blasdell last night with heads high and spirits even higher. As we entered village hall, though, Mayor Ernie Jewett summoned me to his office and changed everything. He said that I could not use the word “consolidation” or “dissolution” in my presentation. If I did, he would end the meeting and have me removed from the hall.

Two of my students from UB Law School, Lindsay Heckler and Dan Lesniewski, were along last night. Dan was outraged by Jewett’s stricture. Lindsay seemed almost saddened at the notion that anyone, let alone a public official, would attempt to curtail another’s right to free speech.

But to cast Mayor Jewett’s order in a constitutional context elevates his small gesture beyond its worth. Jewett acted out of fear. Fear of having residents learn that perhaps there’s a better way to govern than his; fear that citizens would connect the dots between too much government and too little growth; and fear that a system that’s served him better than it has served residents might be forced to change.

The once proud Village of Blasdell today bears more resemblance to an abandoned community. In the over 30 years since the steel industry that sustained it collapsed, no government and no politician has reversed its painful decline. If you are under 18 or over 65 and live in Blasdell, according to the most recent U.S. Census, you likely live near or under the poverty line. And no matter what your age, the value your home, the number of your neighbors, and the quality of your life have all declined.

Against that painful backdrop, last night Ernie Jewett refused to discuss the need for reform. As far more powerful politicians throughout history have learned, though, while he can ban the idea of change in his chambers, he cannot banish it from the minds of citizens.

Constitutional issues of prior restraint of political speech aside, the entire community should be outraged at this sheer, patent idiocy. Gaughan’s advocacy for downsizing and consolidation is dangerous to a certain class of people which thrives on waste, redundancy, and ignorance. What Mr. Jewett did by prohibiting Gaughan from bringing up consolidation is underscore its very need. We don’t need small-minded emperors running needless political entities which serve to spend taxpayer money in unsustainable ways. What harm is there if the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell are no more? I don’t really know. But I do know that there’s great harm in prohibiting the discussion of that topic.

Andriatch spoke with Mr. Jewett:

Asked about the matter the following day, Jewett offered this response: “Mr. Gaughan was invited to speak about his previous presentations to all the boards, village and town. And he was told that it was the unanimous decision of the [Blasdell] Board of Trustees that he was welcome to talk about downsizing, and he was told he was not allowed to talk about dissolving the village.”

Why is that?

“Why is that?” Jewett said, repeating the question as if shocked that it needed to be asked. “Because the village is willing to listen to any way that we can better serve our constituents, but that’s a decision that the board feels is up to the village residents and the board.”

The mayor noted that Blasdell already has taken steps to consolidate some services, including merging its building department with the Town of Hamburg’s. And he is open to other ways to save taxpayers money.

Asked if refusing to allow a speaker to use a word or espouse an idea might have been overkill, Jewett reiterated that Gaughan was invited to speak about downsizing.

Perhaps, Mr. Jewett, the best way for you to serve your constituents would be to make them constituents of a different political corporate entity. Sounds to me as if you inadvertently made that case for Mr. Gaughan.