September 24, 2009

DETROIT – The day before the start of Clinton Fall Festival, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced that it has reached a settlement with the Village of Clinton on behalf of a man who was arrested for collecting petition signatures during the 2007 Clinton Fall Festival.  As part of the settlement, the Village amended an ordinance to clarify that it is not a crime to seek signatures on a petition in Clinton without a permit.

“We congratulate Clinton’s decision to honor the free speech rights of citizens during the Clinton Fall Festival by amending its unconstitutional permit ordinance,” said Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney. “In a free society, we do not need to ask permission every time we want to speak out for political or social change or collect signatures on a petition.”

In fall 2007, Gershom Avery was approached by Clinton police officers at the Clinton Fall Festival while he was collecting signatures to place the medical marijuana ballot proposal on the November 2008 ballot. He explained to the police officers that he was not soliciting for commercial purposes but rather  collecting signatures on a political petition. Nonetheless, he was ticketed for violating an  ordinance that at the time required ”solicitors, canvassers, peddlers, and transient traders” to obtain a permit. Following this exchange, Avery attempted to move outside of Clinton’s city limits so that he could continue collecting signatures and, in fact, stood on the far side of a “Welcome to Clinton” sign.   An officer soon approached him, however, and explained that Avery would have to travel more than a mile farther to be outside of Clinton’s limits. The officer also instructed Avery that he would either have to move, stop petitioning or go to jail. Unwilling to waive his constitutional right to engage in protected speech, Avery was arrested and held for $200 bond.

The new ordinance not only clarifies that permits are no longer required for political canvassing, but also limits the authority of the organization who runs the Clinton Fall Festival. Critically, this corrects a problematic provision of the former ordinance, which had given all of the power to grant permits during the Clinton Fall Festival to the Fall Festival Organization – even in parts of town outside of the festival site.. In addition to the policy changes, the Village has agreed to pay Mr. Avery $2,500.

To read the settlement agreement, click here.

To read the amended ordinance, click here.

To read the letter, click here.