Citizens of Newcastle should be very concerned that Newcastle Police Chief Jim Owens suffered no repurcussions from the Newcastle City Council on Monday night when it was revealed that he violated the state law that requires publication of legal notices in the local newspaper (“Police chief retaliates against NLJ,” page one).
We find it hard to believe Owens was not aware of the legal requirement to publish a bid notice for a new police car in this newspaper. Even if his claim of ignorance is true, it is embarassing that somebody who has been the head of a city department for so long could honestly be ignorant of the law that guarantees citizens of a community are kept aware of government activities and spending.
What we do believe is Owens’ admission that he chose to have the notice printed in Upton because he was upset about opinions expressed by the editor of this newspaper in regards to his department in recent weeks, and that should absolutely terrify the citizens of this community.
As President Kennedy pointed out in the quote printed below this editorial, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects this newspaper from such actions by government officials. Chief Owens didn’t bother to claim he was ignorant of the fact that the freedom of this newspaper to state opinions about his department is one of things he is sworn to protect under the oath he took when he became a Newcastle police officer. He actually bragged to the council about violating that oath.
By publishing the notice in Upton instead of Newcastle, Owens also kept citizens of this community from knowing that his department was purchasing a new vehicle. Since this newspaper has raised questions in recent weeks about the amount of money spent on a city police force, it is possible that the chief may have been motivated to place the notice out-of-town so residents here would not know about such an expensive purchase until it was too late.
It should also be noted that the city council expressed support for this newspaper in June when the editor appeared before the council to challenge Owens’ claim that a community event hosted by the NLJ created “issues,” which means that Owens decided he could ignore the council’s expressions of support for our efforts and try to curtail them by harming the newspaper financially. Of course, he also gave a competitive advantage to out-of-town businesses by publishing the notice in other communities instead of here, so he may be upset with local car dealers too.
Chief Owens demonstrated that he believes he is entitled to ignore state law, doesn’t answer to the authority of the city council, feels no sense of loyalty or responsibility to the businesses of this community, and that he places himself above the Constitution he is sworn to uphold and defend.
If he believes he can use his position of authority to harm this newspaper in spite of the Constitutional protection the founding fathers gave us, what chance do any of you have?
You might want to ask the city council, but until you get an answer, please be carful out there.