A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday afternoon from lawyers representing the city of Minneapolis and a neighborhood organization who want thrown out a lawsuit brought by a small group of residents and business owners who say the organization is keeping minorities from leadership roles.
In March, a handful of members of the Whittier Alliance filed a complaint against the organization and the city of Minneapolis saying that the alliance needed to hold a new board election. The group has argued that the alliance adjusted bylaws to keep Somali-American businesses from joining the organization, participating in its business directory and running for its board.
Part of the lawsuit was a request for a temporary injunction that would have put on hold the alliance's annual board elections earlier this year, but a judge denied that request.
On Tuesday, attorney Matthew Webster, who represents the alliance, presented a motion to dismiss the case and said that the plaintiffs didn't provide enough factual allegations to back up their claims. He also said that the plaintiffs in the case failed to apply for the recent election.
Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney Kristin Sarff said that the case was "purely a private dispute." Sarff added that the city also has a grievance procedure to help address complaints against neighborhood organizations. She also argued that nobody was excluded from the recent election.
"There's no evidence that they were silenced at all," she said.
Randall Tigue, the attorney who represented the five members who filed the complaint, said that a set of requirements drafted by the alliance that specified that potential board members could "not have committed an act of malice or defamation" against the alliance or its board was directed at his clients. He said the rule had a "chilling effect" on his clients so that they didn't bother to apply.
"We have an ordinance which clearly on its face violates the First Amendment," Tigue said.
Tigue argued that if the Minneapolis City Council had a similar rule for its potential council members, then everybody would say it was unconstitutional.
Judge Ann D. Montgomery is considering the motion.
After the hearing, Marian Biehn, executive director for the alliance, said that her group has had minority candidates that have been on the board.
"The bylaws are applied equitably across the neighborhood," Biehn said.
Mohamud Isse, an insurance agent who said he has run for a board position before, didn't agree.
"We don't have any voice in the community," he said.