Free speech should include criticism of development, Mount Pleasant officials urge Statehouse

When a developer sued Mount Pleasant in 2016 over a zoning decision, a half-dozen town residents who had spoken critically about the development received subpoenas and became unwilling participants in the case.

“That just happens to be one example where lawsuits can be used to stifle public participation," said David Shimp, who was among those receiving the notices.

“Merely because, with several neighbors, we had the audacity to discuss this issue in public with elected lawmakers, we got slapped with subpoenas," he said.

Shimp lives in the Simmons Pointe condominium complex where he and other residents were upset about a development next door along Ben Sawyer Boulevard called Sullivan's Pointe.

The subpoenas demanded residents' communications, including Facebook and Twitter posts, to or from other residents of Simmons Pointe, the homeowners association, the town, elected officials, appointed members of the Board of Zoning Appeals and others.

The lawsuit by developer Ashton Woods also sought to subpoena two leaders of the Save Shem Creek group, an influential voice on growth-related issues in the town.

The lawsuit ended up getting settled. But this year, largely due to that incident, Mount Pleasant Town Council urged state lawmakers to pass a bill called the Citizens Participation in Government Act of 2018. The bill is what’s known as anti-SLAPP legislation, aimed at preventing “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”

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