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Piqua sued after residents claim freedom of speech violations

The five Piqua city commissioners at their meeting on Feb
Courtesy of City of Piqua
The five Piqua city commissioners at their meeting on February 6.

A group of Miami County residents filed a lawsuit against the city of Piqua, alleging First Amendment violations.

Four residents have been either forbidden from entering any city of Piqua buildings or barred from attending city commission meetings since February.

“Because numerous community members have criticized the defendants for government- sanctioned pollution, the defendants have maliciously used trespass letters to censor their critics indefinitely,” the plaintiffs stated in their complaint filed March 28.

The city of Piqua has been under fire for a contentious lithium ion battery burning program. The Ohio EPA shut the program down in September.

Discussion at Piqua City Commission meetings has often centered around the battery burns ever since.

The residents who are suing argue the inability to attend public meetings and give comments limits their future speech. They also claim the city gave them no opportunity to appeal its decision.

Matthew Miller-Novak, the prosecuting attorney on the case, said these bans are unconstitutional and his clients have a right to participate in these meetings.

“They’re issues of great public concern,” he said. “And if people are angry in Piqua, I think that banning people from future meetings as a means to quash criticism about these decisions is just not the right way to go.”

City response

The city of Piqua said in a statement that officials are aware of the lawsuit.

“We will review filings and respond accordingly. Given that this is an ongoing legal matter, we are limited in what information we can share at this time,” wrote the city of Piqua spokesperson in an email. “We will share additional information to the public as we are able.”

One of the residents, Alisha Lange, was issued a notice in February that she was no longer allowed to enter any city of Piqua facilities. Prior to receiving this notice, Piqua mayor Kris Lee told Lange to leave the premises during a city commission meeting on Feb. 6.

Lange said she was forbidden from entering the City Hall building. It was “due to her behavior and failure to comply with the rules of conduct for meetings,” according to a Piqua city spokesperson.

Piqua’s official rules of conduct for meetings permits the mayor to order individuals to leave a meeting if they act “in a manner that interrupts the orderly conduct of the meeting.”

But the city government is not in unity on the matter.

Piqua City Commissioner Paul Simmons said he disagrees with the city’s choice to bar these residents.

“I hope we get to see those people in the meetings again. These people are my fellow citizens. I got involved with the commission because of these folks. And to not see them in there with me working for a better community – that's not just hurtful to them. That is hurtful to me,” he said.

Miller-Novak has worked on other freedom of speech cases. Cases such as Hicks v. Crowley and Brown v. City of Jacksonville have determined that bans based on previous conduct at meetings is unconstitutional, according to Miller-Novak.

A judge has been assigned for the case, but a trial date has not been set. The plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction to temporarily revoke the ban on residents’ participation in public meetings. Preliminary injunctions can be issued before a case goes to trial.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905
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