GREELEY — A Colorado Springs-based petition circulation firm and Greeley Stampede officials are headed into their fourth day of disagreement over where circulators can set up during the annual two-week long Fourth of July event.
The continued inability for circulators to solicit signatures on behalf of four ballot initiative groups could lead to a lawsuit against the Greeley Stampede, the City of Greeley and several individuals, said Tracy Taylor, owner of Taylor Petition Management.
“Colorado courts have consistently ruled that our rights to petition the government, supersedes the rights of anyone who rents or leases public property,” Taylor said.
At issue is the Stampede’s lease with the City of Greeley for all of Island Grove Park and most of the streets and sidewalks around it. For three consecutive days this week, Stampede security members have called the Greeley Police Department to remove circulators from areas they have set up to circulate their petitions.
Stampede officials say their lease turns the publicly-owned property into a private facility during the time the Stampede is operating under the lease.
Taylor says the Stampede officials are impeding on a person’s First Amendment rights, and he may ask a judge to step in.
Taylor’s petitioners are carrying four petitions for groups hoping to get their ideas on the November ballot, including “Fix Our Damn Roads,” which is the brain child of Independence Institute* President Jon Caldara and would require the state to bond for new highway funding without raising taxes; “Initiative 108” from the Colorado Farm Bureau, which would require compensation from cities and counties if laws passed negatively impacted the value of property; a school funding initiative; and a campaign finance initiative.
All four petitions are state wide ballot measures.
On Tuesday, Taylor said, a circulator set up near the ticket booth on 14th Avenue in north Greeley just outside the park when he was asked to leave. Then on Wednesday, another petitioner set up on the northwest corner of the intersection of 14th Avenue and A Street, just outside the main gate, when he said he was surrounded by security and subsequently told by Greeley Police he had to move his table to the southeast corner of the intersection on land not leased by the Stampede.
That circulator said one Stampede official got angry and stepped between he and people trying to sign the petition.
“The law is very clear that no one at any time can impede someone else’s right to sign a petition, Taylor said.
Mic Harvey, the Stampede committeeman in charge of security told Complete Colorado that at no time were Stampede security personnel attempting to stop people from signing petitions, nor did anyone get out of hand, both Greeley Police and County Sheriff’s officers that were on scene, confirmed Harvey’s assessment of the situation.
Harvey said they simply are following rules that have been in place for years, rules that they have enforced with all organizations wishing to distribute any kind of information outside the Stampede’s entryways, he said.
“We’re not restricting his First Amendment rights,” Harvey said. “When we lease this property, it becomes a private party; therefore, we reserve that right give them a place they can do that. It has always been handled that way.”
Taylor doesn’t agree, he pointed to several Colorado court cases ruling that simply because it’s private property, it is not a reason to stop people from circulating petitions, including a case where the courts ordered Northglenn Mall owners to allow petitioners inside the mall.
Shayne Madsen the attorney for both the Independence Institute and the Issues Committee “Fix Our Damn Roads,” spoke with Greeley City Attorney Doug Marek on Wednesday, who then called Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones to discuss the matter.
“The Stampede’s statement that they have leased public property with the significant help of the City of Greeley does not take the Stampede area out from underneath the protections of the First Amendment,” Madsen said. “The courts have been very clear that the First Amendment, including the right to petition, has priority consideration.”
Jones told Complete Colorado, his conversation with Marek was straightforward, and his department spoke with Stampede personnel about the situation.
“I had our supervisors talk to the Stampede to let them know how this could work and not work and my understanding was they were on board with what we told them,” Jones said. “(Marek’s) concern, and our concern, is to make sure we don’t violate people’s rights, but obviously, the carnival and the Stampede is a private event as far as it’s leased by Stampede and they control who comes and goes simply from standpoint of charging money. It is their property during the event. But it is not our intention or anyone’s intention to prevent someone from exercising their constitutional right.”
The two groups on Thursday afternoon negotiated a compromise that would allow petitioners to set up on the northwest corner of the intersection at the exit of the main parking lot so long as they set up in the grass, didn’t block the sidewalk, didn’t go into the parking lot or street, and didn’t physically approach event attendees
However, Taylor, who has been licensed to circulate petitions in Colorado since 1992, said when his circulator showed up Thursday night, he mistakenly set up on the wrong corner, and the situation escalated and Stampede officials called the police again.
Although the circulator moved to the compromised location, the situation still frustrates Taylor because he said every day that passes without being able to send multiple circulators to the event, the groups depending on his services lose an estimated 3,000 signatures.
“There are several people who want to work that Stampede and have a right to be there,” Taylor said. “So how am I going to tell all those people they can’t be there working another corner or working a sidewalk. So, it’s nice we got a compromise, but it’s still costing us a lot of signatures.”
Taylor said he is not sure what he will do moving forward, but he hopes Stampede officials will reassess the situation and understand his people have a right to be there.
“You cannot change the public property designation, just because you lease the it for your event,” Taylor said. “We still own it. You’re leasing it from us.”
*Editor’s note: Complete Colorado is a project of the Independence Institute