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Missoula City Council Infringing on Free Speech, Attorney Says

Photo courtesy of Missoula.MT.Us
Photo courtesy of Missoula.MT.Us

If you stand up during the public comment period during a Missoula City Council meeting you can announce your name and where you work, but apparently not that you’re running for office. The extra limitation isn’t one handed down by the Montana Political Practices Commissioner, it’s an interpretation by City Attorney Jim Nugent and City Council President Marilyn Marler, one that attorney Quentin Rhoades says infringes on free speech.

“A: Unless you have something like shouting fire in a crowded movie theater, if you’re talking politics, prior restraint is not allowed,” Rhoades said. “B: the city council really has no role, no jurisdiction in trying to enforce Montana campaign law, if that’s how they interpret Montana campaign law and think somehow that the U.S. constitution is subservient to Montana statute… it still has no jurisdiction.”

Missoula city council Ward 4 candidate Jesse Ramos was warned not to mention that he is running for local office as he had been doing for weeks. Rhoades says council has no authority on this issue over members of the public under Montana State or U.S. law.

“Their sole recourse and their only remedy is to report him to the Commissioner of Political Practices,” Rhoades said. “So they can’t gavel him down when he’s exercising his free speech and their attempt to do that is probably based more on their disagreement with his politics, in particular, you know, he pointed out that $25 million discrepancy they had in their budget.”

Ultimately, Ramos will be the one who decides how he introduces himself at the next city council meeting, so far, he says he is “undecided” on whether or not he will mention that he is a candidate again. Actions by Ramos or Council could lead to the matter being hashed out in court.

KGVO news reached out to Political Practices Commissioner Jeff Mangan for comment on the issue, Mangan did not want to go on the record until a complaint came before his office.

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