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'Targeted picketing' banned in Woodbury

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News Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Bulletin
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Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

The city of Woodbury has put the kibosh on protesters who congregate in front of the homes of residents.

The Woodbury City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday, April 22 to create an ordinance that bans "targeted picketing" in residential neighborhoods. Council member Amy Scoggins cast the lone dissenting vote.

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"One of the things that bothers me is that nobody showed up to support the ordinance," Scoggins said.

Four people who spoke in opposition to the ordinance during a public hearing staged a peaceful protest at the Lions Veterans Memorial in front of Woodbury City Hall prior to the council meeting.

One of those was Woodbury resident Jim Grinols, who claimed the council was taking an unnecessary action that infringes on the right to free speech and assembly guaranteed by the first amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

"It's a pathway that the city doesn't need to go down," Grinols said. "I think what we have here are people who have good motives in hand but don't understand that there is a price to pay for freedom."

City attorney Mark Vierling pointed out that the ordinance is constitutionally sound and is similar to ordinances that have been established in Maplewood, Shoreview and White Bear Lake.

The White Bear Lake ordinance was challenged in court, but was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar ordinance that came out of Wisconsin, Vierling said.

3M execs' homes were targeted

The city first began discussing creation of such an ordinance in February after meeting with city administration and Woodbury Public Safety staff in response to about a half-dozen incidents that took place in Woodbury neighborhoods about a year ago.

Members of an animal rights group were protesting in front of the homes of 3M executives.

After the incidents began last May, the city was able to gather information on the protesters with the help of 3M security personnel, who indicated the protesters were affiliated with the animal activist group SHAC.

The group "Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty" (SHAC) is an organization that, according to its website, protests the actions of Huntingdon Life Sciences, an England-based contract research company.

Its website claims that members also protest any clients of Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Police were called to each incident, often by neighbors of the targeted home.

At least one of those SHAC-affiliated picketers spoke at the April 22 Woodbury City Council meeting in opposition to creation of the ordinance, which she referred to as an "inappropriate way to protect big business."

The woman, who identified herself to the city council as Courtney, said that she attended the protests because "those people participate every day in acts that disturb the peace that you and I don't necessarily see on a regular basis. It's a way of holding people accountable to that."

Woodbury Public Safety director Lee Vague said the ordinance attempts to strike a balance between individuals who wish to express their first amendment rights with "the rights of the people who live here to be able to have a safe place to rest in their own homes away from this type of protest and, in some cases, harassment."

The city does have a public nuisance ordinance that is in accordance with an existing state statute.

Vierling said the creation of the ordinance addressing "targeted picketing" takes the burden off the homeowner to go through the legal process of obtaining a restraining order against individuals who may be harassing them and their family.

"People really only have one home, and it's the right of the people to feel safe an secure in their own homes," Vierling said.

Woodbury City Council member Paul Rebholz asked that the city review the ordinance on an annual basis to evaluate how or if it has been enforced.

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