Editorial: City’s proposed exclusion law needs tweaks

We appreciate that City Council members Diane Gerson, James Goble and Dave Trask have voiced concerns about the city’s proposed exclusion (trespassing) ordinance, though not because we have much respect for the behavior that has led the council to even consider this.

In fact, that’s the best reason to be concerned, because some people apparently aren’t.

As we say, we appreciate the concern that has prompted the council to consider this move to bar people who behave in obnoxious ways – “unruly behavior,” as City Manager Ray Towry described it when the ordinance was introduced last month. (See page 5 for the latest on this.)

None of us likes to hear individuals shouting obscenities or fighting. We despise vandalism – graffiti in particular – and the wonton distribution of trash on public property.

But we are also concerned about how we collectively are trying to protect an angry majority of our population from the distasteful misbehavior of a few folks, by essentially presuming perpetrators are guilty before they have even perpetrated a crime and barring them from doing business with their government.

If that doesn’t sound quite right, maybe we still recall our U.S. Constitution.

In last week’s discussion of this ordinance by the City Council, Councilwoman Lisa Gourley pointed out that those who would be affected by the law would have committed some crime, and they should consider that fact before committing a crime for which they might be trespassed from city property.

No one responded to her comment to say that even though these folks may be arrested or cited, they haven’t been convicted. The city or state will not have proven their guilt. Therefore, can we bar them from city property on the basis of mere suspicion or accusation?

The consequences for crimes are supposed to be imposed after conviction.

Of course, we recognize the right of property owners to trespass people from their property. When the public owns a piece of property, it makes sense that the public can trespass people from its property. Trespassing obnoxious troublemakers – even when it isn’t for a crime – makes a certain amount of sense in the cases of the library or the parks as Gerson pointed out.

But this new law, which is similar to one already on the books that pertains to city property such as the library and parks, goes a little deeper in that it would include City Hall and the Police Station.

In the case of City Hall, it makes zero sense; and the council should build in some kind of exception for conducting legitimate business.

There are times when people are compelled to do business with their government. Government services are mostly monopolies. No one else provides those services, and in many cases, failure to participate could violate the law.

As pointed out by some of the councilors named at the beginning, trespassing someone from City Hall completely could create a rather difficult conundrum if they must do business with the city.

Telling people in this position that they can just call and work out something with city staff seems … inefficient and probably unrealistic. Besides, if citizens who behave irresponsibly get house calls, what does that say to those who are the up and up?

Under this ordinance, people could be stopped from interacting with their elected city councilors in public meetings.

To be blunt, when the city government stops compelling citizens to follow its ordinances and to do business with the city, when it stops interfering in their lives in any way, then it has grounds to trespass people from City Hall completely.

Until then, we don’t think the council should scrap the ordinance in its entirety, but it’s imperative that people who have legitimate business with the city are able to do so. Even after a conviction, it is still not acceptable to keep people from accessing their government.

City Attorney Robert Snyder said he would consider possible alternatives to include in the ordinance to allow people who have business to conduct their business. If he comes up with some, he told the council he would return to the council with them during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on March 28.

We hope he comes back with something that recognizes the needs Gerson has outlined.