Federal Bldg. lifts ban on anti-war views

Agency says it made a mistake when it refused to allow posters on bulletin board

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Juneau Federal Building's bulletin board is open for anti-war messages, now that a government agency has acknowledged its mistake in barring such posters from the property.

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The agency that regulates public use of the building said its senior property manager, James Byers, made a mistake when he refused to allow several nonprofit groups to post notices for their events within the building.

"None of us are perfect," said Bill Lesh, spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration.

Attorney Douglas Mertz represented the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace and the Juneau-Douglas Little Theater, who were denied permission to display their flyers. The veterans were hosting a memorial service and the theater was performing a production called "What I Heard About Iraq."

Alleging a violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment speech rights, Mertz said he was prepared to take the case to court if the agency did not reverse its actions.

Also, a handful of legislators wrote letters to the GSA protesting the decisions.

"I found it absolutely shocking when they refused to post those messages," said Deb Smith, who works with the theater group.

Most distressing was that while troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting for freedom, people in Juneau were being denied their rights, Smith added.

The GSA has a policy that any signs posted around the building must be approved by the property manager. Political fundraiser notices and commercial advertisements are forbidden, as well as signs containing obscenities.

Until the end of last month, the Juneau building employed Byers as a short-term manager, replacing a worker who left in September 2005.

During his work tenure, Mertz said several groups seeking to post announcements were denied permission on the grounds that the flyers were "political" and would be disturbing to other workers.

The signs were advertising vigils, symposiums and the Juneau-Douglas Little Theater play that were critical of the war in Iraq. In March, Byers denied a flyer promoting an International Women's Day peace vigil.

"(A)llowing this flyer to be displayed would create a disturbance within the building," Byers wrote in a letter to Paula Sutton, who submitted the flyer.

Byers added that the flyer was soliciting for political support.

But the GSA allowed the Rotary Club to post an announcement about a local Iraq memorial service, Mertz said.

Kimberly Coon, a director at the GSA Northwest/Arctic Region office, apologized for the misunderstanding and said several flyers that Byers denied should have been approved.

"The property manager misinterpreted the Code of Federal Regulations to read 'political' rather than 'political contributions,'" Coon wrote in a letter to Mertz.

Phil Smith, with Veterans for Peace, said that since Coon apologized, his group and Juneau People for Peace and Justice have been able to post flyers related to the Iraq war.

"It appears the system is working the way it should," he said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.

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