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Charter government petitions not allowed in Manatee County libraries

Kevin Beach, Manatee County library operations manager, with Barbara Elliott, with Stone Soup Community Unity Political Action Committee, in this file photo as Elliott drops off charter government petitions. The County Attorney’s Office ruled that such petitions are not allowed in the libraries on Wednesday.
Kevin Beach, Manatee County library operations manager, with Barbara Elliott, with Stone Soup Community Unity Political Action Committee, in this file photo as Elliott drops off charter government petitions. The County Attorney’s Office ruled that such petitions are not allowed in the libraries on Wednesday. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Manatee County residents wishing to sign a petition for charter government will have to go places other than the county’s libraries.

On Wednesday afternoon, the County Attorney’s Office issued a memorandum stating that placing the petitions and the yellow boxes labeled “Manatee County Charter Petition is Here!” in the libraries should be prohibited.

“It naturally follows that I recommend that the petition documents in question be permanently removed from display in all Manatee County branch libraries,” County Attorney Mickey Palmer said in the memorandum.

The opinion comes a little more than a week after activists with Stone Soup Community Unity Political Action Committee, which is spearheading the charter government petition effort, dropped off the petitions at Bradenton’s Central Library. The petitions were intended to be distributed to the county’s library branches.

In Palmer’s memorandum, he cites previous cases and documents that argue that “unlike parks, sidewalks and streets (traditional public forums) and airport terminals and courthouses (nonpublic forums), public libraries are generally deemed to be limited public forums.”

“While I am not necessarily recommending the cessation of the use of the library informational tables by private parties, I am suggesting that the County is positioned to continue to disallow political campaign activities within its various buildings — to include its library buildings,” Palmer said. “Moreover, I have no doubt that the dissemination or placement of petitions advocating for a voter referendum in support of charter government constitutes political campaigning.”

A petition drive is underway as residents have started the latest effort for Manatee County to become a charter government.

Charters, according to the Florida Association of Counties, are formal written documents — similar to the federal or state constitutions — that confer powers, duties or privileges on the county. Constitutional experts say charters allow for greater self-government free of state oversight, and give the county electorate greater control over regional affairs, according to the FAC.

It will take having 15 percent of registered Manatee County voters, or about 35,000 people, sign the petition to have the charter government measure move forward. The county commission can also elect to start the initiative.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

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