The Bloomington Board of Park Commissioners passed new rules for the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market on Tuesday at a fiery meeting that included a 10-minute break to ease tensions and more than 40 comments from the public.
The new rules include an outline of market boundaries to clarify where people are allowed to protest. Inside market boundaries, people are prohibited from picketing, demonstrating, yelling and hindering the flow of pedestrians or access to a vendor. They also include information on when Bloomington Police Department can be called. Police can be called to relocate protesters to free speech areas or arrest those who don’t comply to market rules after fair warning.
The new rules passed 2-1 with yes votes from board members Kathleen Mills and Les Coyne and a no from board member Israel Herrera.
The changes for vendors and customers follows protests and debate that have been brewing since June 2019 over First Amendment rights and when and where people are allowed to protest.
During the meeting, members of the public claimed rules of behavior weren’t written down at the beginning of the market season last year, when people were protesting Schooner Creek Farm’s presence at the market. The owners of Schooner Creek Farm, Sarah Dye and Doug Mackey, have ties to the group American Identity Movement, a white nationalist group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dye and Mackey are suing the City of Bloomington and three city officials, alleging that allowing political groups to protest their presence at the market yet asking Dye and Mackey to not express their beliefs is a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Some argued the lack of explicit rules for marketgoers and vendors is what led to some arrests of protesters such as Cara Caddoo, an IU instructor who was arrested last summer for protesting at the market.
Throughout the meeting, each member of the public was given a maximum of two minutes to speak about each issue on the agenda.
Bloomington resident Tom Westgard spoke during public comment on every agenda item leading to the discussion about market rules and behavior, totaling five times he addressed the board.
During discussion on the board’s partnership with Buskirk-Chumley Theater Management, Lesamarie Hacker, a protester with the Purple Shirt Brigade, read the market vendor and customer rules. She talked about how Schooner Creek Farm booth assistants harassed her and told her she should be euthanized.
About halfway through the meeting, Mills said she was frustrated that other agenda items would potentially not be taken care of because so many people were coming up to talk about issues unrelated to those items and instead talked about market conduct. She said she used to protest events often and understood what the public was attempting to do.
“You have a strategy to eat up as much time as possible,” she said.
Members of the public argued with the board about the use of their public comment time, which led to yelling around the room. Mills called a 10-minute break to allow her to talk to the other members of the board about how to handle the rest of the meeting.
The market rules and behavior agenda item was originally at the end of the agenda, but during the break Mills decided to have the agenda item moved up since so many people wanted to talk about it.
The vote received a standing ovation from about a dozen people in the crowd. Marcia Veldman, the farmers market coordinator, said the rules and behavior will be posted on the market’s website.
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