A proposed ordinance aimed partly at helping Bloomington manage demonstrations when the Republican National Convention comes to the Twin Cities in September will be voted up or down on May 19.
The City Council postponed a decision on the measure Monday night after the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota sent a letter challenging parts of the proposal.
Council Member Steve Peterson said he wanted time to consider the ACLU's arguments, which ran three-and-a-half footnoted pages. "I would like time to read it and think about it," he said.
Until now, Bloomington hasn't required a permit for demonstrations. But with many Republican delegates expected to stay in Bloomington hotels, officials expect the city to be a target of people who have causes to promote or protest.
The proposal would require a permit for assemblies on public land of at least 25 people gathered for a common purpose; for any planned movement of people, animals or vehicles on public streets or walkways that could interfere with vehicle or foot traffic, and for some outdoor gatherings on private property. The permit fee would be $80.
If a gathering were expected to have a "high intensity relative to its setting," the city also could require a site and security plans, neighborhood notification, a security deposit or insurance certificate, and a deposit for possible police overtime.
Sandy Johnson, Bloomington's associate city attorney, said the draft is modeled on city ordinances that have withstood court challenges. But Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the state ACLU, raised questions about requiring permits for groups as small as 25 people. She said a nominal permit fee like $10 is more common than $80. And she said she thinks the draft rules allow the city too much leeway in how it treats groups.
"If they think the group would be controversial or somehow have a message they would disagree with, they could put them through a lot more hoops than other groups," Nelson said.
Johnson told the council that the city would use common sense in applying the policy. No one is going to ask a group of people walking to dinner on a sidewalk or neighborhood kids marching in a July 4th parade on a residential street to get a permit, she said.
"We are trying to balance First Amendment rights with public health, safety and welfare," she said. She said the $80 permit fee would just cover the cost of processing an application.
Council Member Amy Grady asked what would happen if, with little notice, the president visited the convention, stayed in a Bloomington hotel and drew protesters.
"You have to do a balancing act," Johnson said. "You have to allow for spontaneous expression ... But if you have 2,000 people showing up at the same place at the same time with similar signs, it's probably a planned event ...
"They should call the city. If we can do it, we will get it through the permit process."
Peterson said he was looking for a balance between protecting free expression and giving the city enough control to keep everyone safe.
Another council member suggested raising the size of groups that would require permits to 50.
"I don't see these regulations precluding anyone from demonstrating," Mayor Gene Winstead said. "Is it perfect? No, and I don't think it can be." But it gives the city a tool to deal with things if they get out of hand, he said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380