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Free Speech is Ultimate Winner in Salvatore vs Wildwood Settlement

Updated: Feb 18

Recently, the City of Wildwood settled with Tony Salvatore in his case stemming from his failed April 2018 Council race. Salvatore was reportedly visited by numerous police officers telling him that his holding of a campaign sign and waiving was a violation of one of Wildwood's many sign ordinances. It probably was, which is one reason that the ordinance was finally changed by vote of the city council.

Believing that he suffered a first amendment injury, Salvatore filed suit in Federal Court. The case was settled out of court for $295,000 dollars. The City also agreed to have its employees take first amendment and Sunshine Law training and post an affirmation of residents rights to free speech.

Such lawsuits are part of the landscape of modern cities. That is one of the reasons cities carry insurance. And in this case, the $295,000 settlement will be paid by the City's insurance company.

The Salvatore case, like most things in Wildwood has been highly politicized. With QAnon like fervor anonymous sites had for years suggested that Wildwood's Mayor and city employees would face determinations of criminal wrongdoing. If the rumors were to be believed that mass arrests were around the corner. That did not happen. And the disappointment of some politically vested observers seems palpable.

It was in the end a rather typical conclusion to such a complaint. That said the issues at the heart of the case, the right to speech is an important one. Regardless of one's alliance within the factions of Wildwood's small political world it can only be a good thing that Wildwood will be re-affirming its commitment to free speech. Moreover, the offending ordinance has been changed. That in my opinion is a very good thing. I voted for it myself.

Given the nature of Wildwood politics, it is certain that the settlement will be picked up as a blunt instrument by some wanting to further acrimony. Regardless of those cynical efforts, the real winner here is the first amendment and the reaffirmation of speech rights. It is the real meaning of the case. It strengthens our civic institutions, especially if we take to the time to appreciate its true meaning.