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Minneapolis City Council amends All-Star game 'clean zone' after ACLU lawsuit

In an interesting story that has been developing in Minneapolis over the past few weeks, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) went forward with a lawsuit on Thursday against the city of Minneapolis after an ordinance was passed in February that seemingly gave Major League Baseball veto power over things such as banners, signs and public assemblies around Target Field, essentially creating a speech-limiting "Clean Zone," during the two weeks surrounding the All-Star game in July.

The ACLU claimed such an agreement was a violation of the First Amendment, since those decisions should fall solely into the judgment of elected officials and not be given or shared with a private company such as MLB.

“All we’re saying is you can’t give away your permit process to a for-profit company,” ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson tells us. “It belongs in the hands of elected officials and they can’t give it away. This is a quintessential government role and the First Amendment doesn’t give private companies the power to decide who can assemble, where they can assemble, and what they can say.”

The city quickly responded on Friday by unanimously voting to amend the ordinance. Under the amended agreement, the language clearly states that city officials will retain final say on such matters, but MLB will still be allowed to share their opinions and concerns on a case-by-case basis, which obviously could influence the city's final decision. 

Here's more from The Star Tribune: 

The original language stated that no temporary licenses or permits could be approved in designated areas of the city “without additional approval of Major League Baseball.” The new language, which passed unanimously Friday, says the city will not grant such permits or licenses “without conferring with Major League Baseball.”

“The original resolution seemed to indicate that the Major League Baseball had a role in [the approval],” amendment sponsor council member John Quincy said Friday. “I wanted to make sure that everybody knew this amendment said Major League Baseball would be conferred with, but the city retains those authorities.”

It's not uncommon for a "clean zone" to be established around major sporting events. In fact, it's almost essential as leagues obviously want to work with the cities to prevent vendors who might be selling unauthorized merchandise from popping up close to their venues, and also to keep rival advertisers from making their presence felt. In this case, it just sounds like Minneapolis went too far with the original wording to make sure they had their bases covered and perhaps make sure MLB was satisfied with their game plan.

It's also worth noting that the city voted to shorten the timeline in which the clean zone would be in effect from 15 days to 6 days beginning on July 10. The All-Star game itself is being held on July 15, so it will in effect run out when the game wraps up that evening. Originally, it was set to run from July 5 to July 20, which, again, was overreaching and a little unnecessary given that the All-Star festivities are essentially confined to four or five days at the most. 

As seen on Friday, these were relatively easy fixes, and it doesn't appear MLB will be opposed to the changes in any way. Now it's up to the ACLU to decide if they're satisfied, or if they want to pursue further changes to the ordinance. If that's the case, we'll keep you posted in the coming weeks. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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