Protection of property, while also maintaining first amendment rights, guided Buda city leaders to approve an update in how it controls public use on city land.
Those updates, which came via a 7-0 Buda City Council vote, sets when, where and how residents can place political signs, or organize a protest, at the new city hall facility.
George Hyde, Buda City Attorney, said the issue came up when officials sought to ensure the new $20-plus million municipal complex is preserved for future generations.
In addition, Hyde said the city should regulate what is accepted at its new complex before a free speech issue comes up, and issue guidance for residents “who are seeking redress of their government.” He cited issues at Austin City Hall during the 2016 presidential elections, which led to several protests on the site.
“You’ve spent a lot of money to create a new, beautiful city hall complex and you want to preserve it for future generations,” Hyde said.
The update ensures public access to all of the building, but prohibits impediments, such as political signs and protests, that could obstruct city business, traffic and pedestrians. Areas such as inside of city hall are off-limits for those who might seek to protest. Only certain areas of the Buda City Hall parking lot, as well as the sidewalk near the entrance are available for protesters to organize. It also prevents residents from staying in the parking lot overnight during election periods or during a protest.
The city also regulated where election signs can be placed on the new city hall grounds.
But the updated laws will not allow the city to regulate what is written on signs, no matter if freestanding or handheld, or what is said by protesters, so long as they aren’t violating city ordinance.
“Pro or con, we’re not going to deal with what they are saying,” Hyde said. “We’re going to deal with the time, manner and place. We can do those things to protect the public interest.”
But Hyde said the city could opt to regulate certain language issues, such as obscenity, through other state laws “if they are offensive or create a breach of the peace.”
“If there are fighting words, there are other laws we can use that can address that; they’re independent from First Amendment speech issues,” Hyde said.