The City Council will hold a meeting about the city's partial ban on nudity in public, rather than behind closed doors, as originally planned.
The City Council will hold a meeting in public, rather than behind closed doors as originally planned, about the city's partial ban on nudity.
Mayor John Stromberg sought the change, with the City Council's agreement, during a City Council meeting on Tuesday. No councilors objected to discussing the issue publicly.
In an interview this morning, Stromberg explained why he had changed his mind. At first, he said he had agreed with the city attorney's advice to receive information about the legality of the current ban and its possible expansion in executive session.
There have been new Oregon Supreme Court rulings since the nudity ban was adopted in 2004 that could affect the ban, he said.
Oregon's Constitution gives even greater protections for freedom of expression than the U.S. Constitution, Stromberg said.
Stromberg said he heard from residents who questioned whether it was legal to discuss the issue in executive session. He said he also had conversations with Bob Hunter, the editor of the Medford Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, as well as Tidings columnist Jeff Golden about their concerns about the closed-door meeting.
Stromberg said he still believes it would have been legal to talk about the nudity ban in executive session, but he decided the need for confidentiality was outweighed by the public need for open government.
"It became clear to me that what people were talking about was right," he said. "Everyone thought it would be in the public interest for it to be open."
Stromberg noted that though the council could have met in executive session, it can't make decisions in executive sessions. Decisions must be made during open meetings under Oregon law.
The council had been scheduled to meet in executive session on Sept. 22 to get legal advice from City Attorney Richard Appicello about whether the city's current partial ban on nudity is legal, and whether the ban could be expanded.
Executive sessions are closed to the public. The session would have been held before the council's regular meeting on Sept. 22 that begins at 7 p.m.
The council now is scheduled to discuss the nudity issue in public during that regular meeting.
Ashland's current nudity law bans the display of genitals downtown and in parks.
City Councilor Greg Lemhouse had proposed that city officials consider whether to expand the ban to school zones.
But at least two other councilors voiced concerns that Ashland's current partial nudity ban may already be in violation of rights to free expression.
Appicello had said he would give the councilors written legal advice during the executive session.
Several residents, including Ashland Transportation Commissioner Colin Swales, had questioned whether the council was legally able to discuss the nudity ban in an executive session.
Swales said Oregon law on executive sessions would only allow the closed door session on nudity if there was "current litigation or litigation likely to be filed."
According to Oregon law governing public meetings and executive sessions, the city attorney probably could have presented written legal advice to the councilors in the executive session, according to attorney Laura Cooper, who gives advice to the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and the Daily Tidings.
However, the legality of a verbal discussion of the nudity ban and its possible expansion was questionable, given that there is no current litigation on the issue and no evidence of litigation likely to be filed, Cooper said.
Stromberg had originally defended the executive session review of the legality of the nudity ban and its possible expansion.
In an August e-mail response to residents concerned about the executive session, he wrote, "The City Council needs to understand the legal risks, but we don't discuss that in public because that would essentially give people information about the best ways to file lawsuits against the city. This is the very reason why the Executive Session provisions exist in Oregon."
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.