Saturday, November 7, 2015

City Bans Cheap Advertising

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council,

            When I spoke to you last, I had been cited for signs.  I am happy to report that I have not been harassed at my protest since then, despite adding a 3rd sidewalk sign protesting the citation.  I pled not guilty last Tuesday, and on Monday served Police Chief Joe Henner with a request for disclosure of evidence.  My citation for Obstructing Traffic was dismissed on Tuesday by the officer who cited me.
            But I find myself in further jeopardy, thanks to City Manager Frasher dusting off a long-unused ordinance and deciding that it needs enforcement.  Sometimes a law is not enforced because it is such a bad law that the police dislike enforcing it.  Most bad laws are never repealed; they just fade away from lack of enforcement.  The “Materials on Sidewalks” ordinance, 5.36.020, is just such a law.
            This ordinance serves no proper governmental purpose that is not already covered by other statutes.  What it does is ban the cheapest, most effective advertising that some merchants have available to them.  It reduces visual competition with other forms of advertising, like kitschy city-blessed artwork.  And it effectively bans effective protest by a single person like me.
            I cannot conduct my protest without some materials on the sidewalk.  When I first started, 4½ years ago, I had one hand-held sign and a basket of goodies with my leaflet box leaning against it on the curb, and my CD player next to the light pole.  I added two chairs when the City took away its bench.  I added two wooden TV trays to display my bumper stickers and lean most of my stuff against, after my arrest for giving away pot cookies. 
None of these materials and equipment have obstructed traffic on the 12 foot wide sidewalk, even with the new sidewalk signs.  All of these things, from the basket and leaflet box on, violate this ordinance.  An ordinance that effectively bans peaceful, single-person protest cannot be constitutional.
Putting merchandise on sidewalks is the cheapest, most effective advertising there is.  That’s why I use it; protest is simply cheap, labor-intensive advertising of one’s views to a wide local audience.  Everything I do or have out there is advertising for my causes and my business. 
Business advertising and political protest are equally free expression, protected under Oregon’s constitution.  If the Oregon Legislature cannot regulate billboards along Oregon’s highways, how does the City think it can tell merchants how they can use their own sidewalks, so long as they don’t block traffic or create a hazard?
A downtown with signs and merchandise on display is a vibrant downtown; empty sidewalks make it look like the shops are closed, and do not lure shoppers to stroll.  The real question is:  why doesn’t the City care whether its merchants, large and small, sell merchandise and make money? 
That is a subject for another three-minute speech.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener                    541-955-9040                

5.36.010  Obstructing traffic.  A.  No person shall, except as otherwise permitted by ordinance, obstruct, cause to be obstructed or assist in obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic on any sidewalk or other public place.
B.  The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to the delivery or merchandise or equipment, provided that no person shall permit such merchandise or equipment to remain on any street or sidewalk beyond a reasonable time.
5.36.020  Objects or Materials on Streets, Sidewalks, or any other Public Way.  A.  No person shall permit any merchandise, equipment, or other obstruction to remain on any street or sidewalk.

B.  No person shall use any street or sidewalk or any portion thereof for selling, storing, or displaying merchandise or equipment except as may be otherwise provided by ordinance, or as might be specifically authorized by the Council.

Clean the Slate

Speech to Grants Pass City Council, 10/7/09, posted on

We have a City Council meeting tonight, but we are without a legal quorum, despite the efforts of Mayor Murphy to pretend that he can appoint councilors and the pliancy of Judge Baker.  The clear language of ORS 221.160 gives the mayor no authority to appoint councilors to vacant seats. He has the sole authority, so long as he is in office, to call a special election to fill those seats, and to appoint officials necessary to running such election, if any such offices should also be vacant.
I wanted to talk about mulches tonight, but we citizens cannot bring you our business, because we don’t know that anything you do will stand when litigation is done.  It matters little to me exactly who sits on this council; I’ll talk to anybody.  It matters a lot to me that you be legally appointed or elected and that whatever action you take is legal and enforceable.
We have a way out of this pickle that can give us an undoubtedly legal council quorum right away.  Section 2 of ORS 221.160 provides that, if all seats of a city’s governing body become vacant, the County Commissioners shall immediately appoint a quorum sufficient to conduct city business.  The appointed councilors then appoint enough people to fill out the council, and everyone serves until people are elected to replace them in presumably regular elections; no special election in March would be needed.
At this point, the best way that the new councilors, old councilors, and the Mayor can serve the city and its citizens is to resign en masse, and allow the Commissioners to appoint a legal quorum.  They can even present themselves to the Commissioners for immediate appointment, or to the councilors for subsequent appointments, as can the losing candidates in the last election, and anyone else who is eligible and interested in serving.  There are not that many people interested in full-time jobs with no pay and a lot of grief; the Commissioners will need all the choices that they can get.
The Commissioners were not involved in the controversy that led to this situation; Mayor Murphy was in it up to his neck.  It is not fitting that a single man, and a party to the controversy at that, appoint the replacements for the recalled councilors whom he opposed.  State law does not allow it, despite the incompetence of attorneys on both sides of Monday’s hearing and a judge’s deliberate ignorance of the law, and his appointments will not stand.

  Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener       541-955-9040

Mayors can’t appoint Councils

Speech to Grants Pass City Council, 11/18/09, posted on
Dennis Webber wrote a guest opinion in the Daily Courier on October 30th,   titled, “Appointments were the best way to handle our unprecedented situation.”  I commend Mr. Webber for joining the argument.
He tells us, “The governing principle used was that of returning the council to an elected status as fully and as quickly as possible.”  Is this so sacred a principle in Grants Pass?  The recalled councilors made frequent boast of the fact that they were the first fully elected council in many years—and yet they were recalled.  Apparently, Grants Pass voters do not greatly object to appointed councilors.
Mr. Webber tells us, “Some have suggested that the remaining elected officials resign and the Josephine County Commissioners appoint an entirely new council.”  Thank you for the admission that you need not resign; only the elected officials are actually official. 
But the Commissioners would only appoint a new quorum; the quorum would then appoint the remainder of the council.  The Commissioners would want some current institutional expertise on the council; I’d be surprised if they didn’t appoint several of the current elected council.  That quorum would then be able to fill out the council from candidates who are interested in long-term service for no pay 
Is it really such a great idea to have a special election in March?  It will cost more money.  Plus, our town is polarized from the recall of the council, and the further insult of mayoral appointment of councilors, a truly unprecedented situation not authorized by law—a single man, appointing a quorum.  It’s supposed to be the other way around.  For the remainder of the Council to step down, even temporarily, would sooth a lot of wounds and give this town time to heal.  The last thing we need right now is an election campaign for five seats.
No elected official is being “forcefully recalled”—yet.  You are being asked to resign for the good of the City and the citizenry.  It is a non-lucrative post.  You should all be just as happy to serve the citizens by stepping down as by stepping up.
 We need a legal council now, not in March.  As matters stand, this Council is afraid to make any truly important and controversial decisions, to the point of ignoring the Charter regarding hiring of a City Manager.  We don’t need an interim Council and an interim Manager who can only make interim, non-controversial decisions.  We need a legal Council and a legal City Manager who can do the hard, dirty work of governance, necessary evil, with full and uncontested authority.
Published at under Ignoring the Law #2.

  Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener       541-955-9040