By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has filed a suit against the agency that manages One Government Center, accusing it of illegally stopping free speech on its grounds.
The class-action lawsuit, filed yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, says the Ohio Building Authority illegally prevents political groups from distributing leaflets outside the building, which houses government offices for the city of Toledo, Lucas County, and the state of Ohio.
OBA rules strictly limit where and when groups can distribute information, including requiring that groups provide a list of all their distributing members and give 48 hours’ advance notice to building managers. Activists who have tried to distribute literature said the rules effectively prohibit political activity.
Named as plaintiffs in the suit are Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental and consumer activist group, and Annette Majewski, its northwest Ohio program director.
Ms. Majewski said that on at least three occasions in 1997, representatives of her group attempted to distribute leaflets outside the building’s main entrance. The leaflets concerned an ordinance before city council that would have allowed the city to join a lawsuit against Envirosafe Services of Ohio, Inc., which was accused of contaminating land and water at its facilities in Oregon.
Ms. Majewski said building personnel examined the flyers, said they were political in nature, and told her, “You can’t pass this out here,” directing her to the city sidewalk on Jackson Street.
Mark Habernan, the assistant director of the Ohio Building Authority, said the agency has a “blanket” policy against distribution of political materials on the grounds of its buildings.
“It’s always been our attempt to keep the building neutral,” he said.
Harland Britz, ACLU general counsel in northwest Ohio, called it “a basic violation of constitutional, First Amendment rights.”