Wednesday, June 24, 2009

State Fair Police Told Group It Could Not Pass Out Materials At WisDOT Public Session Tuesday

Yesterday I posted information called in to me about citizens being told they could not pass out information at a public meeting at State Fair Park sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to explain the proposed Zoo Interchange project.

The meeting was in the Tommy G. Thompson building, a site frequently used by state agencies to host meetings on public policies and programs.

In a phone interview this morning, State Fair Police Det. Richard Motola read from a memo written Tuesday afternoon by Sergeant Brian Reynolds to Chief Thomas Struebling after the incident:

State transportation officials became aware that Jeff Gonyo and another individual wanted to distribute literature and set up a table. [Gonyo is founder of the Highway 164 Coalition, which has opposed state highway expansions and is litigating in Federal court over the Highway 164 expansion in Waukesha and Washington Counties.]

That literature distribution had not been given prior approval by State Fair officials, as required by State Fair property management rules, Motola inferred, based on subsequent State Fair police actions described in the memo.

State Fair Sergeant Brian Reynolds was called to the scene - - the memo does not say by whom - - and Reynolds then called the State Fair Police Chief Thomas Struebling to the scene.

Chief Struebling designated for Gonyo information distribution space at two State Fair gates - - one about 100 yards from the Thompson building, and a second across the fairgrounds at Greenfield Ave. and 79th St.

Gonyo was told he and his companion could go into the meeting room and make statements.

The memo does not indicate if Gonyo and his companion went to either of the gates to distribute literature.

Det. Motola said the prior permission rule designating approved literature distribution points is in place to prevent people or groups or political candidates distributing material anywhere on the grounds.

Some observations:

Enforcing the rule inside a public meeting/hearing defeats the goal of public input.

How many times have you been in a hearing or meeting room in a public building and have had a person or group hand you a copy of their statement, or policy position?

I can remember arriving at a DNR session on the Great Lakes Compact in the Thompson building and walking past a row of tables set up by environmental groups who handed out leaflets, flyers or reprints.

Did all those groups have their State Fair Board permissions-in-advance?

Does the state transportation department routinely enforce this rule when it meets at State Fair, or was the Highway 164 Coalition singled out because it has been a thorn in the transportation department's side?

And who called the cops?

I've got a call into the transportation department's regional office to get some answers.

[Update: I spoke to regional WisDOT spokesman Dennis Shook late in the afternoon on Wednesday, and he told me I needed to call WisDOT's general counsel in Madison. I said I'd do that Thursday morning, as it was after 5:00 p.m. when Dennis and I spoke.]

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