Republican National Convention
On Monday, my office received a memo from the City Coordinator's office on the Republican National Committee (RNC), asking that the Council approve the agreement with the "Host Committee" at this Friday's Council meeting.
I have been concerned about this convention since Minneapolis/St. Paul were chosen as host cities. I have heard from similarly concerned Second Ward residents, one of whom came into the office to share his very helpful thoughts about forming a work group of some kind to come up with our plan for maintaining civil liberties while still providing adequate security.
One line in the memo sparked my concerns further: "The Secret Service and Homeland Security will have the final decision making authority on protestors." To me, that sounds a bit like giving the fox the keys to the henhouse.
The current practice for both major parties has been to corral protestors in a "free speech zone," out of sight and earshot of dignitaries. There have been a number of arrests of people speaking critically or wearing t-shirts criticizing the Bush Administration, along motorcade routes and at events. In my opinion, this is well outside the bounds of "time/place/manner" restrictions, which have been upheld by the courts, and put us in the dangerous and unconstitutional realm of government regulating content of protected political speech.
My office has worked hard since Monday to craft two potential responses to go along with any Council action approving the agreement between the City and the "Host Committee" that will soon be bepofre us for considerations.
I am likely to introduce a motion to create the work group that will come up with our plan for protecting free expression as well as security. The work group would include the following people or their designees: the Mayor, one or more Council Members, Chief Dolan, the Director of Civil Rights (Michael Browne), the City Attorney (Jay Heffern), the Assistant City Coordinator for Emergency Preparedness and Regulatory Services (Rocco Forte), and two representatives of recognized civil liberties groups like the ACLU or National Lawyers Guild.
I am also looking into amending the contract to ensure that the City (or someone in the City enterprise) has a role in approving the convention security plan. The current agreement gives that authority to the "Committee on Arrangements," which as far as I can tell is controlled by the RNC.
I recognize that the Secret Service has a role to play in providing security for important persons. But I also believe that they have overstepped their bounds in recent years, protecting the Administration from criticism as well as actual security threats. I have especially troubled by the responses to protestors in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere - responses that show host cities in a terrible light and therefore undermine one of the main purposes of hosting a major party convention.
I want the convention in 2008 to be a model for how a city can host a major party convention without trampling the constitutional rights of its residents and visitors and without incurring huge unmet costs or major inconveniences to many in the City who jusyt want to be able to live theri normals lives while the convention is in town. I believe we can do this, but only with careful and thorough planning.
The outcome of the discussion at Committee of the Whole today is that the Council will not even attempt to approve the contract tomorrow, but hold a special meeting next week to do so. Council Members were very concerned about "rushing through" a deal this important without adequate time to read, consider, and consult with residents. I agree. As I mentioned in today's discussion, it sends a bad message about the nature of our relationship with the RNC if we're forgoing our normal open process for their timeline and their convenience.
I will likley put forth my motion at the meetings next week. Stay tuned.