Chester Township Trustees recently issued a statement related to social media posts by township employees addressing whether the postings fall under First Amendment protection to free speech.
Trustee Ken Radtke, Jr. was asked whether this is related to the recent issue concerning the fire chief.
“It’s kind of related to it,” Mr. Radtke said. “I believe it was some commentary being made on social media and the question was whether the individual who was making those comments was either exercising his First Amendment rights.
“There are certain principles that kind of apply to public employees making comments about the township and its business,” said Mr. Radtke. “Based upon the review that was done, it was determined that he hadn’t done anything improper at all.”
In early September, Fire Chief John Wargelin was placed on temporary paid administrative leave by township trustees in connection with potential violations of statutory provisions of the Ohio Revised Code by the fire department.
According to the release, the township has received several comments, questions and concerns regarding recent social media postings by employees of the township, which include social media postings by the leadership of the Township Fire Department’s organized labor group.
“In response, the Township Board of Trustees asked the township’s legal counsel to review the appropriateness of the postings. As a result of his review, the board has been informed that the employees’ postings to date fall within the protection of the First Amendment,” the release states.
“With this framework in mind, our legal counsel compared the employee’s postings and determined that the postings to date fall within the realm of protected speech as the employees made the statements as a citizen regarding matters of public concern.”
The speech did not impede the township’s ability to carry out its duties and did not result in actual harm, the release states. “However, that is not to say that postings in the future would fall within the protection of the First Amendment,” the release states.
Trustees plan to adopt several policies that will place employees on notice that conduct in the future would be subject to discipline if they violate the township’s standards, according to the release.
“The township is committed to providing excellent service to its residents and will not tolerate improper acts or omissions of its employees regardless of position or rank,” the release states.