Firefighter Claims His Hometown Mayor Pressured His Fire Chief and Others Over Political Signs

A firefighter for the City of Rocky River, Ohio who lives in the City of Olmsted Falls, has filed suit against the mayor of Olmsted Falls accusing him of violating his free speech rights by trying to get him to remove a political sign from his yard.

Scott Solarz filed suit against Olmsted Falls Mayor James Graven in US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio earlier this month. The suit alleges that Mayor Graven contacted the fire chief and union officials in Rocky River hoping they would pressure Solarz to remove a sign in his yard that stated: “VETERANS AND FIRE FIGHTERS AGAINST NO HONOR MAYOR GRAVEN.”

According to the complaint, Solarz was upset with the way the mayor treated him at a council meeting on May 14, 2019.

  • Plaintiff Scott Solarz and Defendant James Graven had a heated exchange at the city council meeting about the City of Olmsted Falls’ failure to do a proper inspection and the refusal of the City of Olmsted Falls to reimburse Solarz for the arbitration.
  • Defendant James Graven, in his capacity as Mayor of the City of Olmsted Falls, responded to Plaintiff Scott Solarz in a dishonorable and disrespectful manner which caused needless public humiliation of a citizen of the City of Olmsted Falls.

Solarz made a total of three signs which were placed in his yard and those of his neighbors. He claims the Mayor was so incensed by the signs that he:

  • Personally went to Solarz’ house to confront him;
  • Contacted the Rocky River fire chief;
  • Contacted the mayor of Rocky River;
  • Contacted the union president of Rocky River Firefighters;
  • Had his wife file a complaint with the Olmsted Falls police, which was investigated and determined to have no basis;
  • Hired a law firm to threaten to sue Solarz for defamation as a bullying tactic despite knowing the signs were not defamatory;

all in an effort to force Solarz to remove the signs. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against Mayor Graven to prohibit him using his political position to further restrict Solarz’ free speech rights.

Cleveland.com is reporting that Mayor Graven attributes the entire episode to Solarz’ unreasonable demands that the city pay $800 for an arbitration between Solarz and his builder. They quoted the mayor as saying:

  • He had to take his builder to arbitration, which cost him $800. He wanted the city to pay his arbitration fee. The law director reviewed everything and determined the resident wasn’t entitled to $800.
  • It’s unbelievable that this guy would lie and make it look like there were firefighters and veterans against me.
  • If this individual wanted to say, ‘Scott Solarz is against no honor Mayor Graven,’ that’s fine, but firefighters and veterans have nothing to do with him not getting his $800 from the city.
  • He lied. He was untruthful on his signs. I’m a third-generation firefighter, a guy who was a firefighter for 30 years. My dad was a Navy veteran. He made it look like there are firefighters and veterans against me, which is simply not true.
  • So, yeah, I called his union president and fire chief. I said one of your guys is lying about me on these signs. As a firefighter, can you ask him to take the signs down. They said they’d ask him, and he refused to take them down.
  • It’s a frivolous lawsuit. He claimed that I embarrassed him at a council meeting, which is not true. If anyone is embarrassed, it’s me.

Here is a copy of the complaint: 2019 Solarz v Gravens US_DIS_OHND_1_19cv2065_Complaint

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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