Batavia library bans political activity outside its entrance
A confrontation between a Batavia citizens' group, library officials and the police looms Friday in response to a new library code of conduct banning political activity outside the main entrance.
The sidewalk in front of the library, 10 S. Batavia Ave., is a favored spot for members of Batavians for Responsible Government. The group is pursuing 1,200 petition signatures needed to place a binding referendum on April ballots. Voters would be asked to repeal the city's home rule status, which gives the city greater taxing and lawmaking powers.
The group has until Jan. 3 to collect the signatures. But a new policy banning petition activity outside the main entrance and in the parking lot of the library has created an unexpected obstacle for the group.
Group member Carl Dinwiddie went to the library Tuesday to inform officials of the group's plan to collect petition signatures. Dinwiddie said that in his previous petition drives at the library, the only prerequisite was the filling out of a form. The form detailed who would pass the petitions and the dates and times of the activity.
But this time, Dinwiddie said, library Director George Scheetz informed Dinwiddie there is no form to fill out, as his group would not be able to collect signatures on library grounds. Dinwiddie's response was to file a complaint with the Kane County state's attorney's office.
"I find this decision to be an unconstitutional denial of access by citizens to petition and redress their government," Dinwiddie wrote in the complaint. "Government is supposed to work for the people. Denial of access to public property to get signatures also limits taxpayers' ability to participate in their government."
Dinwiddie went on to describe the library's new policy as "an abuse of power" by the library trustees.
Neither Scheetz nor library board President Doug Sullivan could be reached for comment Thursday.
It is not known when the new policy went into place. The code of conduct posted on the library's website makes no reference to the use of the sidewalk and parking lot for solicitation or collection of petition signatures.
However, library board agendas posted on the library's website show the board was set to vote on conduct policy changes at the Nov. 15 board meeting. There has not been a board meeting since then. Because of that, there are no official meeting minutes posted on the November discussion and vote.
On Wednesday, Batavians for Responsible Government member Sylvia Keppel collected petition signatures outside the library for 45 minutes. Then, she said, Scheetz asked her to stop. Keppel said Scheetz was cordial but informed her he would call for police help if necessary. She left.
Keppel plans to return to the library Friday and Saturday to collect signatures in defiance of the rule.
"I think we have the law on our side and First Amendment rights to be there," Keppel said. "I don't want to have the police called and get arrested, but this is public property. It's paid for by the public."