JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Organizers for a festival in Jefferson City prohibited petitioning during a recent event in the city's downtown
The Jefferson City News Tribune reported that petitioners supporting and opposing abortion rights were asked to leave the festival last week. The Downtown Business Association said it believed its city permit allowed it to prohibit the petitioners, but the city attorney for Jefferson City said the ban is a concern.
Officials in Jefferson City allowed special event permits for a festival district downtown and in another neighborhood. The permits allowed alcoholic beverages to be consumed outdoors within that district and were granted to the Downtown Business Association for a Thursday Night Live festival that included concerts, activities and vendors.
Nathan Nickolaus, the city attorney for Jefferson City, said the permits allowed organizers to prohibit unauthorized vendors from selling food or beverages. He said city officials had not anticipated festival organizers would lay out more expansive prohibitions.
"When we review the ordinance, we'll need to look at that extension," Nickolaus said. "We never foresaw that."
Festival organizers said the decision to prohibit the petitioners was based on their understanding from city officials that the special event permit allowed them to control the district. They said the prohibition on petitioning was not targeted at any specific group.
"We paid to bring in the bands and other expenses. The event was designed for people to enjoy, and we didn't want them being approached," said Lance Stegeman, the president of the downtown group.
Jill Snodgrass, the organizer of the Thursday Night Live festival, said petitioning was banned because they did not want "solicitations" at the festival.
"We wanted to preserve the integrity of the event," Snodgrass said. "It's not a political forum."
In recent years, another central Missouri event faced controversy about whether petitioners should be allowed. Two people sought to circulate petitions and distribute anti-war fliers during a Memorial Day weekend air show at the Columbia Regional Airport that is organized by a private, nonprofit group. They were escorted out after handing out their leaflets during the 2004 air show.
Federal courts sided with the two seeking to hand out the leaflets. It concluded that by holding the event on city property, the private organization was essentially acting as part of city government and was required to allow for other viewpoints.
Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, http://www.newstribune.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)