Board suspends policy limiting use of aldermanic chambers

Club should have been told about policy, city officials say.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen last week suspended a policy that restricts political and religious groups from using the aldermanic chambers after members of the New Gravois Township Conservative Republican Party voiced concerns about the policy’s constitutionality.

Aldermen voted 7-0 on Nov. 23, with Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel absent, to suspend the policy and send it to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.

City officials drafted the policy this fall after an anonymous phone caller questioned the appropriateness of using the aldermanic chambers and the city’s overhead projector to show a video about Islam, City Administrator Jim Eckrich said.

The Republican club screened “The Third Jihad,” a documentary that purports to expose “radical Islam’s vision for America,” at the group’s September meeting in the board chambers.

While Eckrich said he and City Attorney Rob Golterman saw nothing wrong with the video, they were concerned there was no policy in place governing the use of the aldermanic chambers.

Aldermen on Oct. 12 approved the policy, which prohibits political, religious and commercial groups from using the board chambers and fire department training room. Civic and educational groups still could use the rooms under the policy.

But the Gravois Republicans believe the measure is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Members also contend they should’ve been notified when it was up for consideration by the board.

Gravois Township Republican Committeeman John Winston told the board during a public hearing last week the Gravois Republicans have conducted meetings at the Government Center since late 1997.

The group prefers the location over others in the Gravois Township because it is easy to find and is accessible to senior citizens, the group’s largest contingent, Winston said.

Crestwood resident Marilee Sauer said if the board let the policy continue it could expose the city to litigation. Courts have sided with individuals and groups in cases regarding government restriction of expression, she contended.

“There is no goal of this policy except to discriminate from a certain viewpoint,” Sauer told the board.

Eckrich wrote in a memo to Mayor Roy Robinson and aldermen that Golterman does not believe the policy is unconstitutional but rather “constitutes permissible subject discrimination that serves a legitimate public purpose which is applied toward all religious and political organizations.”

However, both the city administrator and mayor admitted last week they should have notified the Gravois Republicans before the board’s consideration of the policy.

“We should’ve had a public hearing just like we’re having tonight, and I apologize … that I didn’t catch it,” Robinson said.