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Paper cuts: Spokane Valley bans newspapers from City Hall

Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday voted to ban newspapers from City Hall.   (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday voted to ban newspapers from City Hall.  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane Valley has banned newspapers from the City Hall lobby.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 4-2 to prohibit third-party publications from the lobbies of City Hall and the Spokane Valley Police Precinct. The decision most notably affects two free publications – the Current, a Valley-specific newspaper owned by Councilman Ben Wick, and the Exchange, which mostly runs advertisements.

The City Council had previously considered banning newspapers from all public properties, but the resolution passed Tuesday exempts CenterPlace Regional Event Center, a multipurpose facility that includes the Spokane Valley Senior Center.

Banning newspapers isn’t standard practice for local governments. Newspapers aren’t hard to find lying around many government buildings, and free papers use public facilities as distribution sites fairly often.

But Mayor Pam Haley and council members Rod Higgins, Arne Woodard and Laura Padden said the ban was necessary.

Some City Council members have argued the free papers can’t be on city property because they contain campaign ads and election coverage. State law prohibits campaigning in public facilities so the papers have to go, they say. City Attorney Cary Driskell has said allowing the free papers in the City Hall foyer could be construed as a violation of state law.

Allowing newspapers in the lobby doesn’t violate state law, according to the state agency that oversees Washington disclosure laws and campaign finance.

Kim Bradford, deputy director of the Public Disclosure Commission, said agency staff have reviewed Spokane Valley’s third-party publication concerns and concluded the distribution of free newspapers in City Hall is legal, even if those papers contain political advertising or ballot proposition information. Bradford emphasized the opinion represents staff consensus and isn’t a formal ruling.

Council members Tim Hattenburg and Brandi Peetz voted against the newspaper ban.

Peetz said during Tuesday’s meeting that she thinks the whole situation has been a waste of city resources and staff time. Banning newspapers won’t get politics out of City Hall, she said, adding that she thinks the move diminishes free speech and isn’t business friendly.

“We’ve been a city for over 19 years and this has never been an issue,” Peetz said. “Why now?”

Driskell said banning newspapers from the City Hall lobby doesn’t violate anyone’s First Amendment rights because City Hall isn’t a traditional public forum.

“You have the right to manage the building in a way that allows the city to perform the business of the city without interruption,” Driskell told the City Council. “I don’t think the city can be forced to be a distribution point for third-party publications.”

Peetz has previously said she thinks Haley, Higgins, Woodard and Padden wanted the ban simply because they don’t like Wick and want his newspaper out of the foyer.

City Councilman Rod Higgins said that’s not true.

“It had nothing to do with Ben personally,” Higgins said in an interview.

Newspaper ban proponents on the City Council have said their only goal is to comply with state law and get politics out of City Hall.

No City Council members, at least in recent public meetings, have voiced any concerns about the Current’s news coverage.

There isn’t any record online of the Current’s City Council reporter, Lincoln DoWright, whose stories tend to be straightforward retellings of City Council meetings.

Wick declined to comment on whether he writes under the identity as a pen name.

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