Trollin' ain't easy, but is banning John Foddrill, and others like him, unconstitutional?
Published: December 12, 2012
As with most trolls, there are really two John Foddrills. Seated at a dining room table near his wife in their Northwest Side home this month, Foddrill was personable, calm, and at times even dryly funny. But just wait till he gets to his computer.
Every public official and journalist in town knows Foddrill's work well. They cringe, roll their eyes, and collectively hit their delete buttons each time Foddrill targets their inboxes. In recent years Foddrill has sent his increasingly nerve-rattling screeds far and wide, part of a crusade to expose what he considers to be a long trail of corruption at City Hall. The mission not only got him fired from his municipal job, he claims, but got him booted from the halls of local government. To date, no local, state, or federal law enforcement agency has been willing to open a file on his allegations, despite, or perhaps because of, his frequent venom-soaked email campaigns. In the past he's demonized nearly every politician, reporter, or local activist that has engaged him but failed to immediately champion his cause.
But Foddrill's real problem is one that has been hiding in plain sight, his tactics so off-putting that most would rather look the other way. The recipient of a sweeping criminal trespass warning from city officials, Foddrill is banned from stepping foot in City Council chambers, among other city-owned buildings. Upon threat of arrest, and a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, Foddrill's barred from City Hall and Municipal Plaza. He can't protest outside either building, nor can he attend Council or virtually any other local government meeting, including so-called "citizens to be heard" sessions where voters can air their complaints to local elected officials.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and City Attorney Michael Bernard appear to have used this power sparingly, signing only two such letters since 2009, according to city criminal trespass letters obtained through an open records request. But the bans, both against disgruntled former City of San Antonio employees, appear to follow no set protocol. City officials have yet to explain to either Foddrill, a former city telecommunications manager, or Michael Cuellar, a former SA Fire Department contract coordinator and criminal no-trespass warning recipient (full disclosure: Cuellar is the brother of former Current blogger DeAnne Cuellar), exactly why they were banned. Neither were given notice before the bans were issued nor is there any route within the city for them to appeal the decision. Cuellar was banned this summer soon after he began filing open records requests with the city, convinced he'd uncovered fraud and waste in the handling of fire department contracts.
For both Foddrill and Cuellar, the bans are indefinite, and "shall remain in effect until you are notified, in writing, by someone with authority to act on behalf of the City of San Antonio that these prohibitions have been lifted," according to their letters.
> Email Michael Barajas