Anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce, who was ticketed for trespassing Saturday while collecting signatures outside a Costco store off Powers Boulevard for a proposed ballot measure, accused city officials Monday of violating his First Amendment rights.
“The city cannot cancel its legal duty to obey the First Amendment, even though it hates this petition to end both stormwater and secret utility taxes,” Bruce said in a released statement.
Bruce held a news conference on the steps of City Hall Monday morning to denounce his being ticketed.
“It’s time for the city to stop bullying people for the so-called crime of disagreeing with the city,” he said.
“We were arrested because the city doesn’t want our petition to get on the ballot because it would impact city revenue and they have apparently created a new rule where the first Amendment doesn’t apply if you are petitioning to do something the government doesn’t want,” he said. “And they will use the police as their political muscle.”
City spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg denied that politics had anything to do with Bruce’s ticket.
“We aren’t tracking Mr. Bruce and really don’t care how he chooses to spend his Saturday afternoons,” she said. “The Police Department acted as it would have to any trespassing complaint.”
Colorado Springs police officers ticketed Bruce and another man collecting signatures with him, Douglas Stinehagen, after they refused several warnings to stop petitioning outside the Costco store at Powers Boulevard and Barnes Road.
“We were simply responding to the call for service and the desire by the individuals at Costco who wanted them removed,” said police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock. “They were asked to leave and didn’t, and were issued a citation.”
John Wynns, general manager of the Costco, said Bruce was disturbing customers.
"He (Bruce) was here Saturday," Wynns said. "I got complaints from members. He was making a scene."
Bruce and Stinehagen are due to appear in municipal court at 1 p.m. Sept. 8. Bruce said he will fight the ticket and planned to request a jury trial. Trespassing is a city offense for which he and Stinehagen can be sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $500.
Liz Olson, El Paso County elections manager, said she was unsure if the law prohibits political activity such as collecting signatures, on private property.
“We advise anyone circulating petitions on private property to get the property owner’s permission,” she said.
Bruce and Stinehagen were collecting signatures for a possible ballot measure that would phase out payments to city enterprises, including the stormwater fee, over eight years. If approved by voters, it would also bar the city from receiving $27 million a year it now gets from Utilities in lieu of taxes.
Voters rejected a similar measure last fall and, earlier this month, City Clerk Kathryn Young said Bruce has no chance to get his measure on the November ballot this year after missing the Aug. 3 deadline to turn in petitions with 11,470 signatures of registered voters.
Bruce has disputed the deadline, contending the law allows him to continue collecting signatures and submit them in time to have the proposal placed on the November ballot.
Young has said it would be impossible to validate the signatures in the time remaining and that if Bruce turns in the required signatures, a special election will have to be held, costing the city close to half a million dollars. Bruce has said a special election would cost no more than $250,000.