Wichita City Hall security officers shut down activists who were trying to solicit signatures Thursday for a petition to reduce marijuana penalties.
Two petitioners, Janice Bradley and Russ Pataky, attempted to collect signatures in the lobby outside the City Council chamber as people arrived for a special evening meeting to take public comment on the proposed 2018 budget.
Bradley and Pataky are leaders of a petition campaign for an initiative to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to $50.
They regularly collect signatures outside the building during the council’s regular morning meetings, but tried to move inside because of the hot weather Thursday.
They said signature gathering is a constitutionally protected activity and they have the right to do that in an open area of a public building.
But City Hall security supervisor Mark Ingram said he and his officers were enforcing a building rule, and had consulted with City Attorney Jennifer Magana before stopping the signature solicitation.
He said the activists were allowed to hold clipboards and to let people sign the petition. But they were forbidden to verbally ask people for signatures.
Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, who attended the meeting, confirmed the City Hall officers were enforcing rules that had come from the city’s law department.
Magana said after the meeting that her legal opinion is that petition signature gathering can be banned inside City Hall, because courts have ruled interior spaces in public buildings are not unlimited forums for First Amendment activity, as the sidewalk outside would be.
She said signature gathering is not among the First Amendment activities that are traditionally allowed inside the building.
City Hall security officers wear police uniforms and operate under supervision of the Police Department, but are not officially sworn police officers, Ramsay said. They do have