Two Toledo councilmen and a small group of citizens holding a banner were kicked out of Government Center yesterday while holding a news conference raising questions about the USA Patriot Act.
An Ohio Highway Patrol trooper held Councilman Pete Gerken s elbow as he escorted him to the front exit of the building.
Also ordered to leave was Councilman Frank Szollosi and the group called Citizens for Individual Rights and Freedoms, whose members unfurled a banner criticizing the USA Patriot Act as “unpatriotic.”
Mr. Gerken, who pulled his arm away from the trooper, said afterward that many news events have taken place in the lobby of Government Center, including one only 24 hours earlier on the subject of electric rates, in which he participated.
“This is an elected official in the building talking about an issue pending before council,” Mr. Gerken said about himself. “This was not an overtly political press conference.” He said he would protest to the Ohio Building Authority, which owns Government Center.
Mr. Gerken and Mr. Szollosi are co-sponsors of a council resolution condemning the Patriot Act. The law, enacted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, broadens federal investigative powers. Critics have said it gives investigators too much power to snoop on law-abiding citizens.
The group called the 4:30 p.m. news conference to publicize a “campaign of education and discussion” of the USA Patriot Act.
The group met in the lobby of Government Center just outside the door to council chambers, even though the announcement said the event would be held outside Government Center unless it rained.
Griff Allan, the second shift security supervisor, later told Mr. Gerken the reason he was removed was because a banner had been unfurled.
Building Manager Michael L. Sullivan also cited the banner as well as the topic as inappropriate for inside a public place.
“If they had been inside council chambers or outside the building, nothing would have happened,” Mr. Sullivan said. “This is a public area. To avoid offending anyone, we say you can t do it in a public area.”
Mr. Sullivan works for the Reuben Co., which manages the building for the Ohio Building Authority. Reuben Co. employs the firm Securitas Security to guard the building. In addition, state troopers are on duty at all times.
The 22-story building houses city, county, and state offices as well as the chambers of City Council and the Lucas County commissioners.
The Gerken-Szollosi resolution has been held up, in part, because of criticism from Republicans that it is a political assault on President Bush.
Mayor Jack Ford also withheld his support.