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Man decries denial of request to speak



Published: Thu, February 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Council restricted access to a system used to spread messages to block watches.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Free speech -- and the abuse of it -- confronted city council Wednesday:

UKen Stanislaw of Taft Avenue blasted council for denying a couple of members of the public a chance to speak at the council meeting two weeks ago.

They came to talk about council's stripping John R. Swierz, D-7th, of important committee positions. A move Wednesday to deny Stanislaw his request to speak failed 5-2.

Stanislaw called blocking the first requests reprehensible and "just plain stupid." Such moves increase the suspicion of government and hurt local governments' already tarnished image.

He asked that council return Swierz to his previous committee seats.

UMayor George M. McKelvey explained a recent misuse of the City Watch phone message system and changes that will be made.

Only the police department will have passwords into the system and a written policy will be developed, he said.

The computerized system records messages and then automatically passes the information via a phone call to the homes of people -- usually block watch members -- who are signed up.

Somebody sent an inappropriate message through the system Feb. 5, McKelvey said. Police are investigating.

Police Chief Richard Lewis described the message as a personal request that could have been considered political.

The system is supposed to be used for crime prevention, such as alerting neighborhoods about a rash of break-ins, Lewis said.

The police department runs the system, but 108 block watch members also had a password to record and send a message citywide, McKelvey said.

McKelvey said allowing more than police to have passwords opens the possibility of somebody sending out a vicious rumor, unchecked.

"That's a terrible weakness," he said.




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