A request by City Council candidate Marcus Williams to hold a political rally on the courthouse lawn Friday was denied by Routt County commissioners Tuesday. The proposed rally would have included live music, food and alcohol.
A memo from Routt County attorney John Merrill advised county commissioners that if Williams were permitted use of the courthouse lawn without being charged a fair market rental rate, the county would be in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
The county has never rented the lawn before and deciding on such a fair market rental charge would be difficult to do before Friday, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said.
Even if county commissioners could decide on a fair charge, they would need to have broader discussions about whether they want to rent out the lawn.
Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison agreed that there wasn't enough time to discuss the rental charge.
"With the time constraints that we've got to try to piece it together, I would agree, too, that it's going to cause some problems," Ellison said.
Late last week, Williams, who is running for the District 2 seat, sent a memo asking for the county commissioners' permission to use the lawn for the rally and voter-recruiting event. He planned to send out about 400 invitations and expected about 100 people to attend.
Williams was not able to attend the county hearing Tuesday because he was sitting in on the city's annual budget hearing. He said he was disappointed, but not too surprised to learn of the commissioners' decision.
"Of course nobody's ever done this before, so it was a shot in the dark. I wasn't expecting too much," Williams said Tuesday afternoon. "I was just trying something new. It would have been a way to add some fun to the political process."
Williams said he's looking into moving the party across the street to Mambo Italiano restaurant.
The courthouse lawn has been used for a range of rallies, such as a recent rally to support troops in Iraq and another to support peace efforts.
"I think we have in the past allowed for the courthouse lawn to be used for broader issues, but I can't think of a time when we allowed it to be used for a specific candidate," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
Merrill's memo also listed several other potential problems with allowing the rally and party: a liquor license would be required and an area near the event would have to be fenced off, and the city would probably require a special event permit.
Another issue would be that it would "be difficult for the county to avoid the appearance of supporting Williams even if rent is charged," the memo said.
County commissioners made it clear that even though they denied the rally, they were not denying Williams his right to have more traditional free speech activities on the courthouse lawn.
Candidates are allowed to participate in those types of activities on the courthouse lawn until Oct. 20, when early voting begins and campaigning near polling places is required to stop.