CCS Banned On City Property!
Ever hopeful that the city will finally agree to operate with the transparency they claim to support, we continue to ask questions and report on community issues while offering what we believed are reasonable solutions. Some at City Hall (fortunately, not all) clearly dislike our reporting on the decisions they make that negatively impact residents, such as increases in water rates, traffic and debt. But it is the public’s right (and many believe, responsibility) to question public officials, especially those who are elected to represent them.
It’s unfortunate that all too often the city’s reaction to legitimate questions and/or suggestions appears to be an attempt to silence what they perceive as opposing viewpoints.
Case in point is the banning of the CCS on city property. Although given verbal permission several years ago to place our newspaper outside City Hall and the Community Center like other newspapers displayed at those locations, the powers that be at City Hall were apparently unhappy that we placed it outside City Hall two weeks ago.
In what appeared to be an attempt to skirt the Brown Act, the city scheduled as an agenda item under “closed session” a discussion about how to ban the CCS on city property. They hid the discussion from the public by labeling it “potential litigation”.
The problem they have is that the Brown Act mandates that public agencies conduct public business in open session. There are a few exceptions; one is with respect to legal issues. The city council is allowed to discuss issues in closed session (behind closed doors) only if they have been threatened with litigation, are planning to initiate litigation or are in litigation. None of these applied in our case.
According to our attorney, the city council majority wanted to ban only the CCS but were wisely counseled by the City Attorney that if they banned one publication they would have to ban all, in accordance with the First Amendment right to free speech.
The city’s attempt to keep discussion of the CCS ban out of the public eye is questionably legal. If the council or staff really believed they were right to ban only one publication from city property because they don’t like what it said, why then did they feel the need to hide this discussion from the public? Is this the first time that “threat of litigation” was used to shield discussion from the public?
Rather than allow the CCS to remain, the City Attorney wrote a letter to the CCS ordering us to remove our news racks within five days. When questioned, the City Attorney confirmed that all publications are now banned, even the Dispatch which has been displayed outside City Hall and the Community Center for years.
It’s a shame that rather than allowing the CCS to remain, the city chose to punish all publications by banning them from city property. It speaks volumes about the pettiness, spite and need for secrecy of some at City Hall. This latest attempt at city censorship and utter lack of transparency underscores our belief that it’s time for a housecleaning in city government. Fortunately, San Juan will have that opportunity in November 2014.