Panama City News-Herald by Nathan Cobb
August 30, 2020
PANAMA CITY BEACH — A U.S. District Court ruled Thursday that Panama City Beach did not violate a local talk show host’s First Amendment rights.
According to a press release from the city, the lawsuit stemmed from allegations that PCB officials retaliated against Burnie Thompson, host of the Burnie Thompson Show, because of “his critical news reporting.”
“Over a two-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge T. Kent Wetherell II found that although some officials may have treated Thompson with personal animosity, that treatment did not violate Thompson’s constitutional rights,” the release said.
For Thompson, a main reason for the lawsuit was a 2017 ordinance passed by the former Panama City Beach City Council that allowed only PCB residents to comment on non-agenda items at the end of each meeting.
Living in a nearby, unincorporated portion of Bay County, he believed this was a personal shot against him.
“Not only did I feel like that, the federal judge … said so,” Thompson said. “The judge said, in his findings, that the city did pass (the resolution, and) that their motivation was to stop me from making public comments.”
The resolution has since been altered to allow anyone to comment toward the beginning of each city council meeting.
While the court might have found some actions were take out of malice, it ruled that there weren’t any constitutional violations because the resolution applied to all nonresidents and not just Thompson, he added.