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Trollin' ain't easy, but is banning John Foddrill, and others like him, unconstitutional?

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Cuellar claims the board has yet to consider a provision of the city's ethics code requiring that contract bidders report potential conflicts of interest, something Zachry didn't do. Cuellar also claims in his complaint DiGiovanni used city time and resources while negotiating the new job at Centro, and he questions whether DiGiovanni ever cited his position overseeing the Convention Center bid selection process while interviewing with Centro.

DiGiovanni, who starts with Centro after the New Year, also oversaw operations at the Alamodome, where city employees were reprimanded for accepting free or discount hotel rooms in exchange for giving vendors free suites. DiGiovanni suspended Mery for three days, while another supervisor gave Solis a five-day suspension. Flores was given a written reprimand.

Cuellar's ethics complaint charges city officials should have handed their findings over to law enforcement to investigate any criminal wrongdoing. Officials also failed to seek an independent audit, which Cuellar claims is requisite for any allegations against top city officials. The Ethics Review Board is set to hear complaints regarding the Alamodome controversy December 17, while a hearing on the allegations against DiGiovanni and Zachry has been postponed for a later date.

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In September, Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel concluded that Austin's use of criminal trespass notices to disburse Occupy Austin protesters at city-owned property last year was unconstitutional, violating both rights to due process and free speech protection provided by the First Amendment.

There are key differences between Austin's policy and San Antonio's criminal trespass warnings. While Austin had a discernible, publicly available policy that banned protestors for one year, officials there weren't so restrained in who they targeted — police issued roughly 100 criminal trespass warnings during the city's Occupy protests, some for offenses like "provocative" or offensive language.

Notably, though, both men who sued the City of Austin, Rudy Sanchez and Kris Sleeman, had their bans lifted within months after contesting them. They charged forward with their lawsuit anyway, claiming the criminal trespass policy had a chilling effect on protest and free speech.

Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project helped represent the protesters in their suit against the City of Austin. "I think the ruling is very clear," he said. "You can't summarily ban somebody without due process."

"I think what they're doing is clearly unconstitutional," Harrington said of San Antonio's tactics with Foddrill and Cuellar. "You can't indefinitely ban somebody from speaking to or contacting public figures.

"The First Amendment is designed to protect irritating, obnoxious, or troublesome speech. Once you let the government decide this is troublesome, or that's obnoxious, or whatever, you've left the door to abuse wide open."

"Plus," Harrington said, "You don't send a mental health unit at 10 o'clock at night on a holiday," referring to Foddrill's case.

Even though Harrington says he's troubled by San Antonio's policy, don't expect the Texas Civil Rights Project to champion the local cases. The organization has heard from both Foddrill and Cuellar, and has opted to stay away. Their flaws are too apparent, and their approach has grown too toxic to endorse.

"They're obnoxious," Harrington remarked. "But dealing with people like this, that's part of the benefit of being a public official."

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