“We must Always be Vigilant to Protect the Freedoms we Cherish
YONKERS, NY — November 22, 2011 – After costly litigation to represent the City and Mayor Philip Amicone as defendants in the lawsuit known as Guevera, et al. v. Philip Amicone, et al., the City Council tonight voted 5-2 to approve paying $393,338.00 to settle the case. Voting against the measure with City Council President Chuck Lesnick was Councilmember Joan Gronowski.
We just heard prior to tonight’s meeting from our Finance Commissioner that the City of Yonkers is already overdrawn on its financial settlements account – and to pay this settlement would only place the city deeper in debt.
Over the past week the Council has spent many hours in executive session and in caucus being briefed by attorneys of different opinions as to whether this settlement will ultimately save or cost the taxpayers money going forward depending on possible subsequent appeals or actions. This settlement does not include more than $400,000 that the City has already spent in its own legal fees.
My fiduciary responsibility is to the taxpayers not only to stop the financial bleeding, but to also ensure that the City does not assume the obligation to pay for items for which it has no legal responsibility.
While I will not argue the law or revisit the case itself, it was clear that an order was given to city employees to remove certain newspaper boxes within the city of Yonkers from the public’s view.
Who gave this order and how it was carried out were at the heart of the trial issue. No one from the City was ever fired or disciplined for giving the order. The jury found a preponderance of evidence to indicate that the mayor gave the order and by doing so, violated the federal constitutional amendment that allows the press the freedom to deliver information and opinions to the public in an uncensored fashion.
To approve a settlement with no individual accepting any responsibility for any mistake thwarts the intention of the jury’s punitive award, runs counter to the public policy that generally prohibits municipal indemnification of punitive damages and leaves the Constitution vulnerable to future violations from those who might take a chance thinking that they too will be bailed out by the taxpayers.
Having served many years in government, I respect the media and the press for the necessary function it serves – to keep the public informed of the actions of its elected leaders. While I do not always concur with its coverage or the angle of a story – and I too have been blasted on the front page of the Westchester Guardian – I have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution that protects the bedrock of our Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. And that means that no matter how seemingly fabricated, tainted, suspicious or slanderous some stories may appear to be, the press is to be protected in its efforts to report the truth.
The words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt are just as important today as they were when he uttered them amidst the great war that defined the American spirit to safeguard humanity and its finest principles, “If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.”
While the dark days of totalitarian regimes are long behind us, we must always be vigilant to protect the freedoms we cherish and hold dear. For, even here in Yonkers, there will be those individuals, regardless of ranking and station, who may seek to grab hold of and maintain authority with any means possible.
To them I say, not on my watch, and not with our money.