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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

ON PUBLIC EMPLOYEES AND THEIR RIGHT TO SPEAK

A lawsuit settlement in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, may provide an important step forward in promoting government transparency.


The lawsuit was filed in August 2024 by investigative reporter Brittany Hailer with support from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. It was sparked by concerns that investigative reporting about jail deaths, vacancies, turnover, and improper medical care was restrained by the limits placed on employees and contractors.



The jail had previously required them to treat jail matters as strictly confidential, and not available for them to speak about to the press under threat of termination or disciplinary action.  Hailer, who is now a staff writer at the Marshall Project, had been director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.


The lawsuit had argued that silencing individuals who work within the jail violated their First Amendment rights, hampering investigative reporting and the ability to surface problems of public concern. 


On April 23, 2024, the Allegheny County jail entered into the settlement, which included an agreement to revise these confidentiality requirements. The settlement acknowledged that jail “employees and contractors have constitutional rights to speak on matters of public concern when acting as private citizens.”


In an April 24 article from the Reporters Committee, Hailer was quoted as saying, “Jail workers have been providing information to the media in an effort to make the jail a better place and to shine light on the conditions of confinement, despite the fact that they might lose their job. Now, those same workers can talk to the press with protection, which is a benefit to not just the media, but to readers and concerned citizens in Allegheny County.”


This is a potentially significant settlement given the increasing penchant for local and state governments to limit the ability of employees to speak with journalists. For some governments, this means that information mostly comes from a central communications or public relations department. 


On a personal note, after more than three decades writing about city, county and state government, we have seen a marked difference in government as to who is allowed to speak about what is happening inside government walls. This stands in direct contrast to the many public assertions of the importance of transparency and is a problem that we suspect contributes to the loss of trust in government, as well as to media and public cynicism.


#LocalGovernmentTransparency #PublicSectorEmployeeFirstAmendmentRights #AlleghenyCountyJailSettlement #MediaAccessToLocalCountyEmployees #MediaAccesstoLocalCityEmployees #EmployeeMediaContactBan #ReportersCommitteeForFreedomOfThePress #YaleLawSchoolMediaFreedomAndInformationAccessClinic #PittsburghInstituteforNonprofitJournalism #BrittanyHailer #AlleghenyCountyJailLawsuit #LimitsOfEmployeeMediaContact #TrustInGovernment #StateandLocalGovernmentTransparency

MANAGEMENT UPDATE ARCHIVES.

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THE ACADEMIC GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS GAP

USING GENERATIVE AI FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

ADVOCATING FOR CITY MANAGERS: A NEW ORGANIZATION

PEWS FISCAL 50 HAS BEEN SUPERCHARGED

EQUALIZING THE PROCUREMENT PLAYING FIELD

HEAT KILLS SHOULDNT WE PAY MORE ATTENTION

REINVIGORATING PUBLIC SERVICE

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