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Lawsuit threat pushes Montgomery to let union run advertisements

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Photo - A Ride On bus with an advertisement about the ballot measure (Rachel Baye/Examiner)
A Ride On bus with an advertisement about the ballot measure (Rachel Baye/Examiner)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County said Wednesday it will let the county police union run ads on county Ride On buses opposing the county's efforts to reduce the union's bargaining rights, after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the county.

The Fraternal Order of Police is "seriously considering" seeking a court order to force the county to put the ads on the buses immediately, said Lanny Davis, a lawyer representing the union. He said the county will not allow the union to expedite the normal two-week process of buying ads on buses, which would be after the Nov. 6 election. The county has been running ads on its Ride On buses urging voters to support Question B on Montgomery County ballots. If it passes, the measure would uphold a law passed last year stripping the FOP of its right to "effects bargaining," or the right to bargain any management decision that has an effect on its members. The ads are part of more than $6,000 that the county's Office of Public Information has spent on campaign materials supporting the ballot question.

But when the police union tried to respond with its own ads on Ride On buses, they were told that "because the ad the union wished to run was political in nature, [the sales agent] did not think it would be approved," ACLU attorney David Rocah wrote Tuesday in a letter to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

The county selectively prohibited only those political ads on buses that it disagreed with, which is a violation of the union's right to free speech, Rocah argued, threatening legal action if the county didn't change its policy.

In response, County Attorney Marc Hansen offered the union a "one-time exemption" on Wednesday to avoid the costs of a lawsuit, but he defended the county's policy.

"A Ride-On bus is not a traditional public forum," he wrote. The county allows two types of ads on buses: commercial and government-sponsored. The union's ads are neither, and the ACLU's claim that the county is censoring free speech is "nonsensical."

After Election Day, the county plans to resume its ban on political speech on the buses.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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