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Minneapolis sued for giving Major League Baseball a downtown “clean zone” around All-Star time

May 9, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT

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This is interesting. Apparently, back in February, the Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance declaring what people there are calling a “clean zone” around Target Field and other areas downtown around the time of the All-Star Game. The ordinance literally gives Major League Baseball final approval over all manner of permitting that is normally associated with protests, street fairs, assemblies and the like. Here’s the text:

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by The City Council of The City of Minneapolis:

That no temporary permit or license shall be approved or granted by the City Council which would permit the sale or free distribution of merchandise, peddling, transient merchant activities, product sampling, temporary food or beverage services, temporary beverage alcohol premise expansions, block events, parades, races, or permit the use of temporary structures, tents, signs, banners, mobile billboard vehicles, broadcast vehicles, amplified sound permits, temporary light displays, inflatable displays, or permit temporary entertainment venues to be operated during the time period of July 5, 2014 through July 20, 2014 on public or private property within the following geographical areas surrounding Target Field or other event venues without additional approval of Major League Baseball.

So, if you want to hold a political rally or a protest in the specified area between July 5 and 20, and if you plan to use a megaphone to do it — or to serve food or erect banners or anything like it — it’s not enough to get a permit from City Council. MLB has to approve it too.

This has fomented a lawsuit from the ACLU against the city, claiming that its ceding of such approval to a for-profit corporation is a violation of the First Amendment:

“All we’re saying is you can’t give away your permit process to a for-profit company,” ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson tells us. “It belongs in the hands of elected officials and they can’t give it away. This is a quintessential government role and the First Amendment doesn’t give private companies the power to decide who can assemble, where they can assemble, and what they can say.”

I have no idea if this is common practice. Obviously MLB does a lot of stuff in cities in which it holds the All-Star Game. Last year in New York they shut down streets and had red carpet events and parades on Chevy Silverados and the like. If you’re doing that and if you’re pumping a large amount of money into the city I presume you want some assurances from the city that your events aren’t going to be upstaged or interfered with in an unreasonable manner.

But to actually give MLB veto rights over city permitting of such assemblies or events? Including for a period stretching several days past the All-Star Game? Agreeing to those kinds of restrictions and letting a private company decide what citizens can do as far as public assembly and protest seems a bit much.

UPDATE: The City Council has already amended the “clean zone” ordinance. In fact, they did it today:

The original language stated that no temporary licenses or permits could be approved in designated areas of the city “without additional approval of Major League Baseball.” The new language, which passed unanimously Friday, says the city will not grant such permits or licenses “without conferring with Major League Baseball.”

What’s more, I just spoke with someone familiar with “clean zones” surrounding sporting and entertainment events. It is, I am told, “extremely common practice,” around events like the Super Bowl, the All-Star Game, and similar things. The rationale for them is not about protests, though: it’s about protecting league/event sponsors from guerrilla marketing. For example, if Chevy is a huge sponsor of the All-Star Game, no one wants Ford to hang a giant banner from an office building outside the ballpark. Whether you want your city to be in the business of protecting these interests or not is up to you, but that’s what the provision is there for.

In any event, Major League Baseball doesn’t have veto power anymore. And my guess is that they didn’t want it to begin with, even if the city drafted the ordinance in a way that gave it to them. The league has made an investment and wanted the city to take its interests into account. Now it seems they’ve ratcheted it back to that level.

So I guess now it’s the ACLU’s move.

  1. kopy - May 9, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Our Council’s latest accomplishment is voting to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the city, so it’s not like they don’t have the capacity to handle these matters on their own.

  2. dluxxx - May 9, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Hmmmm. That’s weird. And kinda stupid. But I’m guessing that the main idea is that they don’t want a bunch of vendors popping up and selling merchandise that isn’t “authentic” MLB merchandise. I’m seriously doubting that they’d want to stop any kind of political protest or anything of that nature unless they were coming to protest MLB and the All Star Game, in which case, why would you give someone that permit anyway?

    But who knows. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first stupid thing that the City of Minneapolis has done…

    • dluxxx - May 9, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      UPDATE: I read the update and now I don’t have to hang my head in shame. Probably a little overreaching in the initial language, but I’m sure it wasn’t intended. Us Minnesotans are so nice, we figured we’d hand the keys to the city and decision making to MLB and then decided that wasn’t such a good idea…. After we got sued for it. 😉

  3. drewsylvania - May 9, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Government in bed with big business? That’s unpossible.

    • Old Gator - May 9, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      No, it’s impassable.

  4. historiophiliac - May 9, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    Hello, ACLU, if you’re free now, the State of Oklahoma just passed a mandatory Pledge of Allegiance law. It’s a slam dunk, if you have the time…

    • Reflex - May 9, 2014 at 3:42 PM

      Did they get around to outlawing state recognized marriage yet? You said they were proposing that to comply with the court case around their ban of same-sex marriage.

      • historiophiliac - May 9, 2014 at 3:57 PM

        Apparently that one can’t get past the House. Too many old Baptists for that to fly — also the bridal/events industry is against it. Wonderfully, an ad campaign has hit the airwaves promoting same-sex marriage rights. It’s nicely done, and includes a father who’s a veteran who wants his daughter to have a family too. I saw it last night for the first time on TV. The power didn’t go out or anything.

  5. happytwinsfan - May 9, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    Too bad the lawsuit will probably be more interesting than the game.

  6. wabashafats - May 9, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    I think this is basically happening at any major sporting event now.

  7. DelawarePhilliesFan - May 9, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    Two things I would add to this. First off, without knowing any of the elected officials in Minneapolis, I would strongly bet that the original language (which yes, is atrocious) was simple a screw up, and not anything nefarious afoot. Perhaps that is even worse “Hey, we aren’t corrupt, just inept!”, but that is my bet.

    To the second point, about this language protects one companies “exclusivity” and prevents Gorrilla marketing, there is a public resources issue as well. Say for instance this language did not exist – and Ford hangs their giant banner. Chevy then goes down town, and tells the $12.47 an hour permit clerk he has to immediately tell Ford they are breaking the law. But are they breaking the law? Who knows? So he has to call the planning commissioner, who says they are. They call the cops who say Ford is not violating any law, we then get the Deputy Mayor involved….you get the point. So rather then get ugly, they spell out the terms for this temporary situation, so that everyone has clarity and the town does not pay massive overtime to settle a dispute

  8. dcarroll73 - May 9, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    So the amended language, “conferring” with MLB, will be seen by ANYONE as something other than a nod-nod-wink-wink prior approval by MLB? If a for-profit business wants to hold an event fine, but they should not have the right to control public spaces surrounding their venue. I admit that I am touchy on this subject, but I am from NY. We are right not trying to get the governor to stop the outrageous sentencing of a totally-non-violent protester to 7-years in jail for an incident in the Occupy protests. She was leaving the area when grabbed from behind by a cop with a history of over-the-line behavior. He left an entire hand-print bruise on her breast, and she elbowed him leading to an “assaulting an officer” charge. If we no longer have the right to non-violent protest without getting the permission of our corporate masters, then the state of this union is pathetic.

  9. captaincanoe - May 9, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Thanks taxpayers for footing the bill for the stadium. But your civil rights are revoked when you come within a mile of the building.

  10. musketmaniac - May 9, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    When president Bush came to my town ten years ago. the secret service had strict policies on businesses. I got yelled at by a secret service agent for not filling out the correct paperwork. The moron agent couldn’t comprehend that my restaurant opened at 2pm and the president spoke next door at 9am, and I wasn’t getting out of bed for a old used up hack, I think I might have offended a few of them

    • klingonj - May 10, 2014 at 8:35 AM

      some difference between the POTUS and aan all star game ( I dont care which POTUS)

  11. chad4208 - May 9, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    your civil rights are revoked whenever any joe decides they want to do something to you. Now obviously this makes sense DURING the festivities but not several days before or after.

  12. apmn - May 9, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    Any assemblage without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited.

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