OKC council question new proposal on speech featured on city utility poles, benches

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma City Council questioned whether a proposed police regarding what messages can be included on city utility poles and bus benches would do more harm than good.

Council members are considering a change in what is and isn't allowed on the city property after banners promoting gay and lesbian pride sparked controversy.

Councilors were told Tuesday that bus-stop benches and banners promoting prayer, voting or drug abuse prevention could be prohibited under the proposal.

A recent anti-meth campaign slogan, ``Life or Meth; don't turn a blind eye,'' for example, would be inappropriate, an assistant city attorney told council members.

``It is a social advocacy issue. We wouldn't allow it for the same reason we wouldn't have 'Legalize marijuana' out there,'' Tina Hughes said.

Mayor Kirk Humphreys asked for a new policy after the present rules allowed Cimarron Alliance Foundation to hang banners promoting gay and lesbian pride on Oklahoma City utility poles and bus benches.

The banners featured a torch with a rainbow flame over the name of the Cimarron Alliance Foundation. While the group raises money for AIDS research and education, the banners promoted gay and lesbian pride.

Humphreys said he only wants banners that promote positive messages for the community. City leaders say the new policy would do that.

The policy states that banners and bus bench advertising would be limited to items that would ``promote or celebrate the city, its civic institutions, or public activities or events in the city of Oklahoma City and ... otherwise (would) promote the corporate interests and welfare of the city.''

Council members authorized introduction of the proposed policy by an 8-0 vote, with Councilman Guy Liebmann absent. The proposed policy will return to the city council for final consideration Aug. 28, officials said.

Councilwoman Willa Johnson questioned whether the policy would effect minority groups celebrating their heritages, while councilor Ann Simank asked whether Oklahoma Department of Human Services banners advocating the use of quality child care might be banned.

Councilwoman Amy Brooks said she is not comfortable letting city officials decide which messages are of sufficient public interest.

``What standards are we using to determine that?'' Brooks asked. ``What might be important to one person might not be to someone else.''

City Manager Jim Couch said the proposal wasn't about issues.

``It is about us having a usable and appropriate policy for regulating these issues,'' Couch said.