Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Letter to the editor: Missed opportunity

January 23, 2002

During the Christmas holiday, my husband and I had the pleasure of staying at the Victorian Veranda Country Inn just north of Lawrence. While we were in the area, we decided to drive into Tonganoxie to see if we could meet a person we had spoken to on the phone several times, but had never met face to face. That person was Jean Lenahan.

When we called the Lenahan's home we were shocked and saddened to learn that Jean had passed away unexpectedly several weeks earlier.

We became acquainted with Jean when she called to ask us about the First Amendment lawsuit we won at the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996. It seemed the circumstances of our case were very similar to a situation that Jean and several others in town were facing. In our case, the trash collection contract we had with Wabaunsee County was terminated after my husband began writing a weekly newspaper column which was critical of the commissioners. We were stunned when Jean told us that city officials in Tonganoxie had publicly announced a boycott against their family-owned hardware store as well as two other local businesses after they participated in an effort to force a public issue to a vote.

Public scrutiny and citizen oversight are important factors in the efficient operation of any governmental entity. In the Supreme Court decision, New York Times Company v. Sullivan, Justice Hugo Black stated, "An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment."

Jean Lenahan was a true American hero in every sense of the word. She believed that her rights under the Constitution meant something, and she exercised those rights despite intense opposition. I only wish we'd had the opportunity to meet her in person and tell her how much we admired her courage and determination.

Keen A. and Eileen Umbehr,

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