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City Lifts Ban on Library Petitioning

Attorney Aleshire’s second appeal for relief March 8
gained reprieve for petitioners till library rules revised

by Ken Martin
©The Austin Bulldog 2018
Posted Saturday March 10, 2018, 1:02am

The good news received by attorney Bill Aleshire Friday evening came as a surprise—but a pleasant one.

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“Well, I’ll be darned,” Aleshire wrote in an email to The Austin Bulldog last night. “I just received this from the City regarding petitioning at public libraries.”

Anne MorganAnne MorganWhat he received was a conciliatory email from City Attorney Anne Morgan sent at 5:45pm Friday that states until the Library Commission considers taking action to revise the Library Use Rules March 26, 2018 “…the Austin Public Library will allow petitioners to solicit signatures on library grounds in a manner that is not disruptive of library services to its customers, or to the library services provided by library staff.” (Copy of Morgan’s email linked below.)

Making the decision to back off all the more timely is the fact that IndyAustin petitioners were already scheduled to petition at Austin Public Libraries today, Saturday, March 10.

Second trespass notice issued

Morgan’s message came a day after Aleshire on Thursday, March 8, sent a letter via email to City Manager Spencer Cronk, Library Director Roosevelt Weeks, and Morgan to request a hearing for his client, Lucas Burdick.

Location at Central Library where Lucas Burdick was issued a Criminal Trespass Notice (Photo courtesy of Bill Aleshire)Location at Central Library where Lucas Burdick was issued a Criminal Trespass Notice (Photo courtesy of Bill Aleshire)Burdick was issued a Criminal Trespass Warning on Wednesday March 7 while petitioning at the Central Library. Aleshire’s letter states Burdick was standing about 25 feet away from the entrance (see photo) at the time and the officer required him to move to the sidewalk by the street.

The warning notice prohibited Burdick from “coming on the property or premises of the City of Austin located at all Austin Public Libraries for any reason at all.” (Emphasis added.)

Burdick’s warning is the second issued to an IndyAustin volunteer or employee gathering signatures for the CodeNEXT petition.

Scott RoyderScott RoyderOn February 19, 2018, The Austin Bulldog reported that Scott Royder was issued a Trespass Notice when petitioning at the Spicewood Springs Branch February 17.

Morgan’s message also states that Weeks would rescind the criminal trespass notices issued to both Burdick and Roudes (sic, should be Royder).

Aleshire surprised by City’s retreat

In a telephone interview, Aleshire said, “I was surprised by the City’s reaction.”

Why? Because it’s the first time in a long string of cases in which he has communicated with the City to explain problems and asked for them to be resolved without litigation. (Although The Austin Bulldog has reported on those cases there is no time in this breaking news story to restate all of them here.)

Yet in each case—until now—the City has refused to deal with the matters at hand, leaving Aleshire and his clients no choice but to sue for relief.

“It’s not like a sneak attack. I explained the problem and asked them to voluntarily fix it—and still had to sue,” he said of previous cases. (Disclosure: Aleshire has represented The Austin Bulldog in two lawsuits against the City of Austin for withholding records requested under the Texas Public Information Act. In both cases the City gave up the records only after being sued.)

Aleshire’s letter asking for Burdick’s hearing was the second time he has pointed out that City Charter Article 4 Section 1 grants the Power of Initiative:

“The people of the city reserve the power of direct legislation by initiative, and in the exercise of such power may propose any ordinance, not in conflict with this Charter, the state constitution, or the state laws except an ordinance appropriating money or authorizing the levy of taxes.”

In his March 8 letter, Aleshire wrote, “Exercising the petitioning rights recognized in the City Charter is a unique form of free speech, requiring a degree of physical proximity to potential petition-signers that is not necessary for other forms of speech, such as demonstrations and protests. The further the City staff tries to move petitioners away from potential petition-signers, the greater their interference is in the people’s exercise of this ‘reserved right’ of petitioning for initiatives.”

Aleshire and fellow attorneys Bill Bunch and Fred Lewis made similar arguments in a Cease and Desist Warning Issued to the City of Austin February 19, to no avail.

Links:

Bill Aleshire letter to City Manager, Library Director, and City Attorney, March 8, 2018  (17 pages including seven exhibits)

City Attorney Anne Morgan email March 9, 2018  (1 page)

City of Austin Rules for Public Use of City Properties, effective Sept. 21, 2015 (6 pages)

Criminal Trespass Notice, February 17, 2018 (1 page)

IndyAustin SPAC Cease and Desist Request, February 19, 2018 (4 pages)

Library Use Rules effective February 1, 2017

Related Bulldog coverage:

Library Commission Debates Petitioning Rights: Petitioners appeal for access to library properties, library director and attorney adamantly opposed, March 2, 2018

IndyAustin Petitioners Barred from Libraries: One IndyAustin petitioner issued a trespass notice to prohibit setting foot on Spicewood Library property, February 19, 2018

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page. Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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