Opposition Stirring Against Missoula Ordinance Overreach
I wasn’t sure what to expect at tonight’s city council meeting. I knew there were two competing versions of fixes for the aggressive solicitation/pedestrian interference ordinances in a reconsideration effort initiated by councilman Adam Hertz to avoid a lawsuit by the ACLU. Exhibit A was the Mayor’s version, and Exhibit B was Jason Wiener’s version.
I’m not informed enough to speak to the legal aspects of how the two versions differ, but one bone of contention seems to be whether to include silent solicitation with a sign as part of the prohibitive scope of the ordinances. Wiener’s version removed that part, the Mayor’s version did not. There is also the issue of criminalizing sitting/sleeping/lying on the sidewalk, which would be very problematic if enforced equitably, and a civil liberties issue if selectively enforced.
And then, public comment.
For context, remember these amendments were quickly rushed to a vote last December, so the holidays kept awareness—read: opposition—from poking up its inconvenient head.
Tonight, in addition to comments from MT ACLU’s Anna Conley, Olivia Riutta from the Montana Human Rights Network submitted comments in support of Wiener’s version, albeit with reservations.
Both Riutta’s comments and Sara Howell’s comments, from Montana Women Vote, took issue with how women’s safety has been used to justify the need for these restrictive and probably unconstitutional ordinance amendments. I can’t imagine it was easy to make those comments, considering Copple’s previous alignment with the groups now publicly expressing concerns.
Another notable comment came from Scott, a criminal defense attorney. I was pleasantly surprised someone who deals with the revolving door of disorderly conduct in the legal system spoke up. I also enjoyed the succinct reminder that assertiveness and pepper spray are legal tactics for the public to consider when dealing with threatening behavior (who was that guy?).
And let’s be clear, there absolutely is unsafe behavior happening nightly in downtown Missoula. This is perhaps my favorite part of the public comments.
Scott, the owner of the Badlander, decried the behavior of “solicitors”, like how they puked on his building. No, seriously, he complained about drunken behavior using the term “solicitors”. I’m guessing the preferred shorthand, “transients”, didn’t jive with the “it’s-not-about-homelessness” messaging coming from ban-sitting contingent.
Scott wasn’t the only bar owner who decided to back the mayor. Kevin Head, proprietor of the Rhino, also stepped to the microphone. He made it very clear the panhandlers are not his customers, that they “hit on” his customers.
Hearing that reminded me of a conversation I had with a bartender at the Rhino a few months ago. We were actually talking about these ordinances and she mentioned how a few patrons had put on Santa hats around Christmas and went to the streets, handing out pints of vodka.
Considering tonight’s comments from bar owners, I would appreciate a little criteria for the Missoula public regarding proper drunkenness to help guide us in differentiating respectable drunks from “solicitor” drunks. I would also like a way of analyzing urine samples, to make sure people who drink at their establishments aren’t improperly depositing their fluids.
Ultimately the result tonight was a punt back to committee. And still no indication what the ACLU may do.