No news, good news? Spokane Valley City Council weighs in on newspaper ban | Seattle Times

Some say it will eliminate City Hall politics. Others call it a politically motivated attack on a member of the city council.

This week, Spokane Valley City Council discussed a proposal to ban third-party postings on city property. Should the idea become official policy, newspapers such as Inlander, The Current and The Exchange would no longer be able to drop off free newspapers at City Hall or the CenterPlace Regional Event Center.

Mayor Pam Haley and council members Rod Higgins, Arne Woodard and Laura Padden said they like the idea. Higgins, Woodard, and Haley noted in interviews that free newspapers often include political advertisements in the run-up to local elections. State law prohibits campaign materials on government property, so those ads cannot be displayed at City Hall, they argued.

“It’s going to take the politics out of town hall, and that’s a good thing,” Padden said.

Council members Brandi Peetz and Tim Hattenburg strongly oppose the idea of ​​a ban, for several reasons. Peetz pointed out that newspapers play a vital role in helping the public follow what’s going on in city government. Hattenburg agreed and said the newspaper ads supported local businesses.

Allowing newspapers at City Hall seems innocuous, Hattenburg said.

“Is it that important as a problem?” he said in an interview. “I hope you are joking?”

But the debate isn’t just about the theoretical pros and cons of allowing newspapers on city property.

City Councilman Ben Wick and his wife, Danica Wick, own the Current, a valley-specific monthly newspaper. Ben Wick did not respond to requests for comment and recused himself during Tuesday’s debate.

The newspaper’s argument is the latest fight in what has been a contentious start to the year for the city council.

In March, Haley, Woodard, Higgins and Padden battled Wick, Peetz and Hattenburg over where to place a large bronze bear statue. The parties disagreed in January on how to distribute regional committees among board members.

The rise in disputes coincides with a change in the balance of power within the city council. Prior to January, Wick, Peetz, Hattenburg and Linda Thompson made up the informal majority of the officially nonpartisan council. Padden’s victory over Thompson in the November election put Wick, Peetz and Hattenburg in the minority.

Peetz wasn’t shy about describing how she really feels about the proposed ban.

“It’s politically motivated,” Peetz said at the reunion, adding in an interview afterwards that she thinks the whole situation is “childish” and a bit more than Haley, Woodard, Higgins and Padden’s way. “to get Ben’s diary out of the foyer.”

In a presentation to council, City Attorney Cary Driskell explained that Spokane Valley clearly has the right to ban third-party postings.

Driskell said third-party publications — which include everything from brochures to newspapers — aren’t allowed to be in the lobbies of City Hall or CenterPlace because those areas “are not a traditional public forum. “. The ban would not violate anyone’s First Amendment rights, he said.

On top of that, the city can restrict the distribution of materials if they create clutter or don’t fit the purpose of a public building, Driskell said.

He also wrote that allowing third-party postings in public buildings could be “construed” as a violation of Washington law.

He referenced a state law that prohibits the use of public facilities to “assist an election campaign” or “promote or oppose any ballot proposal.” Specifically, Driskell pointed out that the Inlander, Current and Exchange routinely include election information or campaign advertisements.

Haley, Woodard and Higgins all said Driskell’s interpretation of state law was their primary reason for supporting a newspaper ban.

“It’s against the law to have them there,” Woodard said.

They all pointed to in-stream campaign announcements as their primary concern and said they feared the city would be in trouble with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission if they allowed the papers to stay. The Public Disclosure Commission makes decisions on campaign finance and transparency violations.

If posting newspapers and other materials on public property breaks Washington law, then many local governments are breaking the law. It’s unlikely that many, if any, local governments in Washington have banned newspapers — the Spokane Valley could be a pioneer.

It is common practice for local governments to have newspapers lying around or displayed in lockers. Copies of Inlander or The Spokesman-Review are not hard to find on the Spokane County campus or Spokane City Hall.

Driskell explained that if the city went ahead with a newspaper ban, it would likely only affect free publications.

The city’s paid subscriptions to The Spokesman-Review and the Spokane Valley News Herald would not be affected — although those papers will not be left out in large numbers in the lobby. The main effect of the ban would be to prevent third-party publications from using city properties as distribution sites.

The debate over third-party publications is primarily about The Current.

Barb Howard, a regular attendee of Spokane Valley City Council meetings, has complained about the newspaper — and launched personal attacks on Wick — in the past. In February, she threatened to file a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission if the city did not remove power from the foyer at City Hall.

Danica Wick said the city council didn’t need to pass a resolution to evict the current from city hall. She said if the city had asked for it, she would have been happy to take it down on her own.

“We put it there as a service to the community so it’s easy to access,” she said. “It doesn’t bring us anything. It costs us time.”

Removing power from City Hall isn’t a big deal, Danica Wick said, but losing CenterPlace would be.

CenterPlace is an important gathering place for the community, she said. It is also home to the Spokane Valley Senior Center. Banning third-party posts would make it harder for older people to get the current, Danica Wick said.

The Inlander does not deliver items to City Hall, but Inlander editor Ted McGregor said the loss of CenterPlace would be significant.

“We’re disappointed,” McGregor said. “I would expect elected officials charged with running a public building to support free speech.”

McGregor said he is not aware of any local government in Washington or Idaho that has banned the Inlander. He added that removing newspapers from city properties will not remove the policy from City Hall.

“There is already politics in town halls everywhere,” he said. “It’s kind of obvious.”

City council will likely pass a ban resolution in the coming weeks.

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