BEAVER — A municipal judge has tossed out a disturbing the peace charge lodged against a 57-year-old grandmother ticketed for telling Beaver town trustees they better watch their backs after the close of a lengthy board meeting.
“There's a big uproar here,” said the woman, Linda Fisher, who ran unsuccessfully for a trustee position in 2011. “Nobody in this town likes the way they're conducting business.”
Fisher cited the recent resignation of town Treasurer April Jamison and a residents' petition calling for a state audit as additional evidence of turmoil that has gripped this Oklahoma Panhandle town of about 1,500.
Recalling events that led up to her being ticketed last August, Fisher told The Oklahoman she was frustrated with Mayor Denise Janko and the other four trustees because of their spending practices and because they refused to recognize her to speak at their August board meeting.
“I pointed my finger … (at town trustees), and I said those of you that are Denise followers had better watch your backs because she's going down,” Fisher said.
Fisher said that was “in no way a physical threat” but rather a warning about what to expect at the next election.
Five days after making her remarks, Fisher said she was ticketed by a local police officer on a disturbing the peace charge.
Fisher turned to the American Civil Liberties Union for legal help, and on Nov. 19, Beaver Municipal Court Judge Robert Jaques dismissed the charge against her.
“Judge Jaques' decision follows countless rulings from higher courts upholding a citizen's right to free speech even when that speech is unpleasant or annoying to public officials,” said Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
“In this case, there was little question that Mrs. Fisher's comments were a protected exercise of freedom of speech.”
Despite the ruling, Janko said she believes Fisher's remarks were “uncalled for, even if we were already out of session.”
“In my opinion, it was a threat, but they just said it was freedom of speech,” said Janko, 50.
“It saddens me that our rights are more important than our moral values.”
Fisher said she wanted to address board members at that August meeting because there was an agenda item authorizing any trustee who wanted to attend an Oklahoma Municipal League conference to do so.
She said in recent years, only one or two officials had attended, and she thought that was sufficient and more cost-effective.
Janko defended the decision to allow all trustees to attend, saying “we feel like they need the training.”
Petition seeks audit
Meanwhile, state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones confirmed Wednesday that he has received a petition signed by 110 verified Beaver residents asking for a special audit of Beaver.