It is disappointing to learn that Robin Hensel has sued the taxpayers of Little Falls because of what she perceives as alleged discrimination.
Last fall, Hensel was ordered to take down numerous political signs in her yard that were in violation of the city sign ordinance. She then pointed out that the sign ordinance was not being enforced uniformly.
In response, the city took her objections to heart and has been working diligently to create a sign ordinance that is uniformly enforceable. The end product will probably upset a number of other residents, but Hensel’s objection goes to the heart of the U.S. Constitution, which says in effect that when it comes to political speech, the government can’t discriminate against people with whom it disagrees.
She also accuses Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers of not protecting her when she received on-line death threats for pointing out that a “We Support Our Troops” sign was in violation of the sign ordinance. Since she has thankfully not been physically attacked, she will have a difficult time proving that the city discriminated against her or that its response was inadequate.
We also believe that Hensel will have a hard time proving that the city discriminated against her when it decided not to replace a bench on which she wanted to buy ad space near city hall. There is no constitutional right to a bench by city hall, nor to placing advertising on it, even if it did exist.
Hensel’s other point is that she was denied access to an overnight camping permit for an “Occupy” demonstration in a city park. City code is quite clear that no overnight camping will be allowed in city parks. Indeed, as far as we know the city has never issued an overnight camping permit for a city park.
However, Hensel raises the issue of the Antiques and Collectibles Fair at Le Bourget Park, in which some booth operators may have slept overnight in their tents to protect their wares. A large group of cross-state bicycle riders also spent a night in Le Bourget Park a couple of years ago. This may require the city to rework the ordinance to accommodate all law-abiding groups in the same way.
We would have preferred that Hensel and the city work together to make those changes, but once someone files suit that changes everything. Tax dollars needed for other activities must be spent defending the city in court, and, if she prevails, will hurt taxpayers even more.