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City Blinks in Staredown with ACLU

November 20, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

Staff Reports

POPLAR BLUFF, MO — The Poplar Bluff City Council blinked in a potential standoff with the American Civil Liberties Union by repealing an ordinance dealing with the passing out of handbills. On election day at the Ward 1 polling precinct armed Poplar Bluff Police Officers approached Brian Becker who was at the polling place campaigning against a City of Poplar Bluff sponsored sewer rate increase ballot initiative and wrote him a ticket, and according to Becker threatened him with arrest in front of voters passing by on their way into vote. The officers also took down the homemade signs Becker had placed at the polls.

After the police altercation Becker left the polling precinct, “out of fear of arrest”. Sunday, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a suit against the City of Poplar Bluff alleging the unconstitutionality of an ordinance regarding the distribution of handbills without a permit and advance written consent of the operators of each vehicle. The ACLU is representing Brian Becker, who feared arrest after distributing handbills opposing a local $20 million bond initiative for sewer upgrades. Becker was opposing a city sponsored initiative to raise sewer rates to pay for a system wide upgrade.

Becker has long been a critic of the city’s Municipal Utilities dating back to a fight over the use of city’s broadband network. “I am obviously very happy this ordinance was struck down and I hope this means my ticket will be dismissed”.

“We challenged this ordinance to make sure that our client and others can freely express their opinions in ways protected by the First Amendment, without fear of fines or arrest,” says Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM.

In the Rust Communications owned Daily American Republic City Attorney, Wally Duncan stated that they did not want to risk having to pay the legal fees that could have been incurred in a lawsuit with the ACLU. The Rust owned Daily American Republic also reasserted that the Poplar Bluff Police Department was “turning their investigation over to the Missouri Ethics Commission”. However, Julie Allen Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission informed the SEMO TIMES of department procedure and it does not include any provision for such an investigation being conducted by local police departments or having them “turned over” to the Ethics Commission.

The SEMO TIMES has learned that a recent Ethics Commission complaint filed in his capacity as a private citizen by Lyman D. Bagby of Poplar Bluff did not include any documents from any police investigation.

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