Mayor responds to ACLU suit

WESTFIELD – Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik has responded to a suit filed in the U. S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, alleging that he violated the constitutional rights of Westfield politicians by ordering the removal of campaign signs posted on private property on East Silver Street.
Responding to the suit through his attorney, Edward M. Pikula of 17 Beaumont St., Springfield, Knapik has asserted that signs supporting the candidacy of plaintiffs David Flaherty and Jane Wensley were illegally posted on the public tree belt where they had the potential to obstruct the vision of motorists and were removed as a legitimate exercise of mayoral responsibilities.
Signs promoting the re-election of City Councilor John Beltrandi were also removed at the same time but Beltrandi is not a party to the suit.
City Councilor David Flaherty, who has called his relationship with Knapik as “contentious”, filed the suit in federal court together with Wensley, who had been a candidate for election to the Municipal Light Board, and David Costa of Russell, the owner of the property where the signs were allegedly placed.
The suit alleged that the plaintiffs’ rights under the U. S. and Massachusetts constitutions had been violated , that the plaintiffs had been threatened, coerced and intimidated by the mayor’s actions, that he had caused city employees to trespass upon private property and that he had “intentionally and wrongfully exercised acts of ownership, control and dominion over the Plaintiffs’ campaign signs.”
In his response Friday, Knapik “denies that public employees were ordered to enter the yard of a private citizen and remove the campaign signs advertising politicians the citizen supported” while admitting that “the Mayor of Westfield had instructed the City’s Director of Public Works to remove any signs in the tree belt.”
Specifically, Knapik denied “the location of signs advertising for the election of Plaintiff Flaherty being clearly within private property” and that the signs “were placed so as to create no obstruction to the view of drivers and were otherwise in compliance with local sign ordinances.”
The mayor refers the court to a photograph which was published in The Westfield News “for a fair and accurate depiction of their (the signs) placement.”
Knapik alleges several defenses for the actions he has admitted to in his response to the suit.
Prominent among them is that his “directive with regard to the campaign signs was a legitimate exercise of municipal regulations” and “was justified due to their potential, where located, to obstruct views of pedestrians by motorists.”
His defense also alleges that his directive “was a content-neutral, constitutionally permissible time, place and manner restriction, justified without reference to the content of any regulated speech.”
In addition, Knapik specifically denied the basic allegations of the suit saying that he “did not intentionally or wrongly exercise acts of ownership, control or dominion” over the signs in question; that he “did not commit an intentional and unauthorized entry” onto the plaintiff’s property; that his actions “did not amount to any threat, intimidation or coercion” and that his actions “did not violate a state or federal constitutional or statutory right.”
In his response to the suit, Knapik requests a jury trial and prays that “the claims against the defendant are dismissed with prejudice and that the Plaintiffs take nothing” and that he be awarded “attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements incurred in defending this matter.”

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