State Parks Employee Fired for Writing Newspaper Article
First Amendment Challenge Mounted
Phoenix — Arizona States Parks officials have fired an employee because he authored an essay about Kartchner Caverns that was published in the Boston Globe newspaper on February 6th. State Parks Director Kenneth Travous ordered the termination, effective Thursday, March 9, because the piece brought “discredit and embarrassment to the State.”
The employee, Matt Chew, has worked for Arizona State Parks for the past 7 years as a coordinator for land purchases and preservation of natural resources. His essay, which the Globe entitled “A Theme Park Grows Beneath the Ground”, discussed the trade-offs inherent with high human visitation in natural places.
“I have a constitutional right to express my opinion and I did not intend, nor do I believe my essay does, bring any discredit on the state or the people who work for it,” commented Chew. “I am disappointed Director Travous feels threatened by public servants who voice professional differences.”
Chew is being defended by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national employee rights group based in Washington, DC “Despite appearances to the contrary, Arizona state employees remain American citizens,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Bureaucratic tin despots like Ken Travous cannot run a Gulag Arizona where dissidents are summarily exiled.”
PEER has retained the Phoenix firm of Miller, Lasota & Peters to represent Chew in connection with the dismissal. Don Peters, a partner with the firm, said “Fortunately, the Constitution does not allow the State to fire people simply for expressing views which a superior does not like. That is pretty clearly what happened to Matt Chew.”
Chew’s dismissal will be reviewed by the State Personnel Board before any court challenge can be filed.