Town of Campbell vs. Constitution: A Parody

Imagine this: a particularly irksome local protester files a lawsuit against a township and its police chief in protest of an overreaching new ordinance, and to get back at him the chief registers his email address on online dating, porno, and insurance websites to generate harassing emails, all done on his computer at the cop shop. Add some jokes and Amy Poehler and you’d have a Parks and Rec episode.

But this bizarre episode, a script that would probably be rejected because of its outlandishness but could find a second life as its own reality show called Barney Goes Online, actually happened. It’s an outgrowth of a story we wrote about last year wherein tea party protesters led by Town of Campbell resident Greg Luce were forbidden by law from protesting on an interstate overpass because of nebulous “safety concerns.”

Barney (Campbell Police Chief Tim Keleman) was instrumental in getting the unconstitutional ordinance on the books last October. The ordinance clearly singles out the tea party group organized by Luce, blotting out free speech for the group in a zone along the overpass. The ordinance is simply a vehicle justifying the desire of the police to harass a harmless group holding signage, from political signs like “Impeach Obama” to American flags and crosses. With the new ordinance Campbell police can and have ticketed people who were simply holding a flag.

It’s a blatantly unconstitutional violation of the group’s rights to peaceably assemble and demonstrate. Even Democratic state rep Steve Doyle agreed last year, saying democracy can be messy and that’s something people living in a free country need to work through.

Doyle’s right – there’s also a heavy burden that comes with any public service job: judges, elected officials, police chiefs, et cetera work for a government belonging to those people who can be a pain in the keister like Luce. The Town of Campbell case, comprehensively bizarre as it is, is one example among many.

That a police chief would engineer the enactment of a new law to enforce is one question of ethics in this case. Compounding that, the law also targets a specific group, making it almost a modern bill of attainder, used in England centuries ago to strip wealth from specific people, but which are expressly banned by the US Constitution and the constitutions of all 50 states. So Barney – eh hem…Chief Keleman – rigged a new ordinance targeting a group especially irksome to him and his department.

Not good. But despite widespread bad press the Campbell town board still hasn’t repealed the law. In fact, they’ve dug in. In response to being singled out, Luce exercised his right to petition the government for redress of grievances and filed suit in a federal court, himself singling out Keleman, the town, and a few officers. Keleman couldn’t deal with the tables being turned on him with an iota of maturity. Instead the chief used his work computer to sign Luce up for various websites that would lead to harassing emails because he didn’t know how else to respond, according to the La Crosse Tribune.

This is all about the health of our democracy that The Left claims to cherish, and public officials not realizing they’re not warlords in a banana republic. But judging from some of the comments on the Tribune story members of The Left excuse the misdeeds of the chief with ease because of who they were directed at, excuse the ordinance based on exactly the justification used by the chief, and demonstrate a stunningly threadbare understanding of or appreciation for the Constitutional rights we all are entitled to (our only true entitlement).

One can always tell when a Liberal Democrat is daydreaming about the bygone glory of the protests that tore the state capital apart in 2011, the reaction to Gov. Walker’s budget reforms. Suddenly they’ll be overcome with a short-lived aura of serenity, pausing in awe of the great wonder of democracy that allowed their people to trash the capital and intimidate the Republicans.

Do they also look to the tea party’s benign overpass protests with similar fondness? Some might, but most would no doubt talk themselves into a rationalization that this particular democratic assemblage isn’t protected by the United States Constitution, that the tea party isn’t nearly as intrepid as they, that the police chief was well within his rights to arrange Luce’s harassment because the tea party is full of buttheads.

The Left will say one bad turn deserves another; following the attention the initial story received, the chief and his department got harassed themselves (note the irony saturating this entire story). They even claimed they received “death threats.” But to attribute all that to Greg Luce’s group would be idiotic considering the national reach the story garnered. Are threats and harassment of the police examples of civil disobedience? No, and those on the right who stoop down to the level of The Wacko Left like Brett Hulsey and Christine Sinicki only make things worse.

The lawsuit Luce filed is an appropriate, measured response to being singled out for attainder. But like Doyle said, democracy can be messy. It’s a burden Chief Keleman has to handle, once he grows up.


In my initial post about the ordinance I concluded:

That some of our local elected officials and their lawyers have such a threadbare understanding of the Constitution, would write a law to target a specifically annoying group, and would put their thumb on law enforcement to carry out these wishes is downright frightening.

With the development of the latest episode of Barney Goes Online I could add to that it’s also unsettling that this entire backstory, with the police chief rigging the ordinance for his own department’s uses, went unreported initially.

It’s also unfortunate to have a police chief cruising around French Island with the power to take away your liberty, property, or even your life, who has such little respect for his own position.

Heavy is the burden of public service indeed because in such capacities you have great power over others. This police chief’s “us versus them” mentality, a flagrant disrespect for his own office, and his bizarrely immature actions should relegate him to stapling paperwork in a back room of the station.

This is one public official who started a fight he had no idea he couldn’t win, because he forgot we’re in America, a country where officials are held to rules, and the people still haven’t forgotten the government answers to them.

To restore the public’s trust he should be replaced immediately, the chairman of the Town of Campbell board should face serious scrutiny, and the ordinance that started this whole episode should be repealed. For the Town of Campbell to do otherwise is for them to continue to hobble around in a circle pulling the trigger on their holstered gun, pumping more lead into their foot.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s an armchair politico, veteran of several campaigns, and communications specialist. He's the communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.