Friday, August 19

City Commissar Castigates Commission Candidate; Claims Cannot Campaign in Commons

Sorry, sometimes I cannot resist a little alliteration. ;-)

However, I think a serious and disturbing thing happened in our city last month. On July 17, the City held its annual "Riverfest" party. The party was held on public property, along the riverfront.

City Commission Candidate Stuart Lewin thought to use the opportunity of the event to get out the word for his race for the City Commission. Seems like a natural, right? After all, I am no lawyer, but I always learned in civics class that one of the primary purposes of public spaces is to facilitate civic discussion of public affairs.

Well, the city does not exactly agree with that interpretation. The City apparatchik responsible for organizing the event, Ms. Keri Langille, told Lewin that "vendors" had to pay a $75 fee. When Lewin refused to pay this fee and asked what law he was breaking by campaigning in a public park, apparently she yelled at him, lied to him about a conversation she was having at that moment via cell phone with the city attorney, and had two police officers threaten him with imprisonment for disorderly conduct.

Again, I am no lawyer. However, I think that this case goes beyond the pale. While I have no problem with a municipality making reasonable restrictions on speech in advance for the preservation of public safety (prohibiting yelling fire in a crowded theater, for example), I have a big problem with the city making a prohibition like this on the spot. Our right to speak, express ourselves and assemble is an important civil liberty, and should not be unreasonably infringed.

Vendors should pay a fee. That is reasonable. But a guy on a bike handing out flyers?

Disclosure; Stuart is a family friend. We are pretty far apart on our politics, but he is an honest man with integrity. However, I do not intend for this blog to endorse any candidate for any race at any time.

I am coming a bit late to this party, as both the Tribune (here) and GeeGuy (here, here and here) have written about the incident.


Dona Stebbins said...

Aaron, Mr. Lewin had every right to disseminate information at this event. I am not a lawyer either, and I may not always agree with Stuart, but I would NEVER deny him his right to free speech. I believe this entire matter casts a blight on Great Falls. (And I love your alliterative tendencies - I have those,too.) People putting political proclivities as a priority are the premise of the promised land:) Say that six times and go vote!

The Raving Norseman said...

I'm still torn, as I was on GeeGuy's blog. I'm an unabashed supporter of free speech (you should see some of the loonies I've stuck up for), but the whole organized-event thing kind of stops me short. You've answered one point I brought up to GeeGuy --Mr. Lewin should not be considered a vendor, so perhaps there wouldn't be a lop-sided treatment of those who pay and those who don't. But I am still of the opinion that organizers should have some right of control over content they are going to be held responsible for.

Unless we don't have a problem with PETA folks showing up unannounced next year and taking a position right next to the petting zoo...

Treasure State Jew said...


Of course, organizers should have some control over controlled events. However, the terms of that control should be spelled out in advance.

People attending a concert at the Four Seasons may have their bags searched at the gate, as long as the policy is written up front.

Similarly, no one should be able to discharge a weapon or make noise over a certain decibel volume at a park. However, ordinances against such behavior are written in advance and debated before the City Commission and the public. A capricious act by a low-level city functionary, acting by the seat of her pants, is a completely different situation.

So, yes, the city should be able to write ordinances keeping PETA from the petting zoo and the ugly-sign wavers from setting up shop down the boardwalk at the fair. However, they have to make the rules clear up-front.

The Raving Norseman said...

You're right; I actually read your post, but missed the point of the in advance argument because you tied it to public safety, which it doesn't have to be. I agree that if covered in advance by ordinances defining what is and isn't allowed at such city functions, situations such as this could be avoided.

Can we think of any bloggers who might want to spearhead an effort to legislate this problem away before the next Riverfest? ;)

GeeGuy said...

Thank you, Aaron, for explaining it so much better than I could.

The Raving Norseman said...

Naw, GeeGuy; you explained it well. I just have to hide behind my tagline: "Witness the rants of a self-professed second-rate intellect." In both instances, I was misunderstanding what you guys thought the issue was!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of PETA ( and I really try not to give them more than a fleeting thought) the little stunt downtown yesterday as they protested the Circus was really silly. A semi-nude female with false whip marks chained to a lamppost? Really rather laughable, although some bystanders found it (or her) worth a second look. The true irony was that she was several doors down from a notorious pet store which purchases stock from puppy mills. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying! It just reminded me to attend the Circus, which has a multi-million dollar retirement home for its' elephants and to adopt my animal companions from the shelter ot reputable breeders.

Treasure State Jew said...

Thanks for the reminder! I had forgotten that the circus was in town. I'll be sure to take my kids.

I have never had much use for PETA, unless you are talking about a different organization; namely the People for Eating Tasty Animals.