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Banned From City Hall: The City Responds And The ACLU Reacts

Chris Eudaily

A follow-up on last week’s program about being banned from city hall. First an extended interview with City Attorney Michael Bernard and then the ACLU sounds off on the right to petition the government. Finally, Evita Mendiola, the spokesperson for Haven for Hope talks about how the cold weather affects the homeless in San Antonio.

City Attorney: We are keeping people safe

Last week we brought you the story of John Foddrill and Michael Cuellar -- two San Antonio citizens and former employees of the city -- who separately said they found problems with contracts and internal book keeping at city hall.

Each man protested, sent emails, letters and freedom of information requests. They were told by the SAPD and the City Attorney’s office they were not allowed to go to City Hall or city council meetings, and if they did would be arrested.

During last week’s program we tried repeatedly to get the participation of members of city government to no avail. After the program aired and was posted on our webpage we were able to get a quick phone interview with City Attorney Michael Bernard, who didn't want to talk about the specifics of the Foddrill and Cuellar cases, but the general city policy in regards to banning.

Bernard: "We have issued criminal trespass warnings banning people from city facilities, again unless they have an appointment or business there, and I'm just going to kind of leave it at that. But it's only happened in instances where people, including the police department, feel there is a real threat to people who work here or to visitors here."

Davies: "And there's no judge involved? Like if I wanted to get a restraining order to keep someone away from me who I thought was a threat to me I would go to a judge, but you don't do that."

Bernard: "No"

Davies: "You just decide"

Bernard: "Yeah, and you could keep people off of your property. When you say that you wouldn't do that, if someone is a threat to you and were content in coming on your property you could keep them off and your employer could do that and could keep someone off of the property where you work. You don't need a judge for that, that's just a criminal trespass warning."

  • Listen to the full show to get the entire interview, but here is one last clip from the city attorney:
"We don't go to a judge if that's what you are asking, but if the police department and others come to the conclusion that someone is a threat that is sufficient for us. That's all it takes, which is a lot, and it has happened twice in the seven years since I've been here."

The government shall make no law...

We aren’t experts on civil rights - so we wanted to reach out to someone who is and talk about the rights of the city and city employees verses the rights of citizens. Rebecca Robertson is an attorney for the ACLU of Texas.

"That is a first amendment concern. I think a lot of us are familiar with our right to free speech, but the first amendment also protects our right to petition our government for redress of grievances and our right to peaceably assemble. And those are, the supreme court has said, really critical components that protect our democracy and protect our right to make the government answerable to us." 

Robertson said she hasn't heard of cities issuing a specific ban, but has heard of city governments passing ordinances to restrict first amendment rights; such cases are then resolved in court action.

Homeless and freezing

Winter has arrived in San Antonio, which is a problem facing the city’s homeless. When it gets extra cold by San Antonio standards,homeless shelters like Haven for Hope have to work extra hard to provide a warm place to sleep and additional social services.

To tell us about that is Haven for Hope spokesperson Evita Mendiola.

"Cold weather in Texas is obviously fairly rare, fairly unusual, but when it does happen, people who are living on the streets are not always prepared.  They don't necessarily have the layers of blankets or the right cold weather gear to sustain themselves, so places like Haven For Hope open their indoor sleeping areas for individuals sleeping on the street to come in and ahve a warm place to sleep, a warm meal and some resources."

You can find out more information about donations, volunteering and services online at www.havenforhope.org

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi