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Firefighters union files lawsuit challenging enforcement of 'free speech zones'

Union says zone prevented it from getting signatures for its petition

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SAN ANTONIO – Just when you thought the legal battle between the city and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association was over, another is beginning. The union has filed a lawsuit, challenging the city's enforcement of "free speech zones."

The particular location is the free speech zone at the Semmes Branch Library on Judson Road. That's where firefighters first called attention to the issue in March.

The union said the free speech zone is 288 feet away from the front door of the library and prevented union members from getting signatures for the union's petition.

The president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, Chris Steele, released a statement saying, "Politicians were allowed to be at one place to talk to voters and citizens, but when it came time for regular citizens to have access to voters, the city attorney instructed the San Antonio Police Department to arrest anyone refusing to move to the so-called free speech zones. How are you supposed to talk to citizens that are nearly a football field away, and if you try to talk to them, you will be arrested?"

The city has responded to the lawsuit, saying the purpose of free speech zones is to give library guests and voters space from people engaging in political activity.

"The city has followed the law as the courts have allowed it for many, many years," public affairs director Jeff Coyle said. "Free speech and First Amendment rights are equally important to us, but we do require they be in designated areas at our libraries. It's that simple."

The Firefighters Association has filed three petitions to make changes to the city's charter. One is for a salary cap and term limits on the position of city manager. The second would allow the union to bypass contract negotiations and go straight to arbitration. The third would lessen the requirements for people to stop the City Council from taking action.