As controversies were starting to rage about large tuition payments being made by the Aliquippa Water Authority for its Chairman, Kenneth Thornton, the organization’s board passed a new “Media Relations Policy” threatening to terminate any employee who spoke to the press.
According to a copy of the Board’s minutes from July obtained by the Beaver Countian, the Water Authority approved the resolution proposed by Chairman Kenneth Thornton.
“Mr. Thornton motioned as he has been acting in the capacity as General Manager he sees the need for a media policy,” read an entry in the minutes for July 22nd of this year. The policy states in part:
“I hereby agree, upon an inquiry of the media concerning matters of the Authority, I will not answer any of their proposed questions or requests, nor will I make a statement or comment, but will immediately refer their inquiry to the General Manager. An appropriate response would be to say ‘I’m sorry, I cannot comment on this matter at this time, please contact the General Manager of the Authority.’ I understand and agree that if at any time I answer a question or request, or make a statement or comment to the media about Authority matters without prior approval of the General Manager, I will be subject to disciplinary action including possible termination.”
Board member Joe West (who works as an employee of the courthouse as Assistant Director of the Planning Commission) motioned to approve Thornton’s resolution which passed unanimously.
The Aliquippa Water Authority’s broad and far-reaching policy would not likely hold constitutional muster, as courts have found that public employees have a First Amendment right to discuss matters of public importance.
Kenneth Thornton resigned from the Water Authority earlier this week.