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Viewpoint: Speak up at Monday's forum about Barn Bluff paint/graffiti

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This is a monthly series of city of Red Wing Q&A. For more questions and answers, go to the City’s website at www.red-wing.org. If you have an inquiry, call 651-385-3608 or connect via Facebook at www.facebook.com/CityofRedWingMinnesota.

Q: There has been a lot of discussion about whether the city should continue allowing paint/graffiti on the western rock face of Barn Bluff. What is happening with that issue?

Brian Peterson, City of Red Wing Special Project ManagerA: City Councils often have to deal with sensitive issues involving different points of view, and the local controversy of whether the city should continue to allow paint/graffiti on He Mni Can - Barn Bluff certainly qualifies as one of those.

Since the late 1950s the western face of the bluff has been used for various painted messages, memorials, flags, graduating years, etc., and the city has not regularly enforced its graffiti ordinance at this location. You'll probably recall May of 2016 when the city removed a memorial to Prince on the bluff after receiving a complaint from a community member. At the time, it was common practice to remove paint/graffiti on this spot only when someone complained, but it became obvious the issue needed more clarity on how to proceed in the future. Staff and City Council have been working since then to get a full understanding of the matter through additional information and community feedback. What follows is a list of what we've learned to date.

Opinion survey

In the fall of 2017, the city had a professional company conduct a communitywide random survey (via cellphones and landlines) to gauge public opinion about this issue. The results showed

• 49 percent of people said painting on the bluff should never be allowed;

• 18 percent thought painting should be allowed but with some restrictions;

• 23 percent thought it should be allowed with no restrictions;

• 10 percent were unsure and did not express an opinion.

Margin of error was plus or minus 5 percent.

Sacred place

Prairie Island Indian Community representatives have shared that He Mni Can - Barn Bluff is one of the most sacred places to the Dakota people, and PIIC feels strongly that the bluff should be free from all paint/graffiti. The Tribal Council has designated He Mni Can - Barn Bluff as one of its top priorities in 2018, and earlier this year PIIC prepared a nomination of the bluff as one of the country's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

This spring, PIIC decided not to nominate the bluff and instead work to share the bluff's Dakota history and see if the graffiti policy gets enforced this year before submitting the nomination. City and PIIC representatives are in communication on this topic on an ongoing basis.

Freedom of speech

People have raised First Amendment questions related to the enforcement of the city's graffiti ordinance. Since the bluff is public park property, which normally does not allow paint/graffiti, the city must be extremely careful about how it would decide what is appropriate and not appropriate if painting would be allowed to continue.

The city could choose to make this location consistent with all other public property rules and prohibit all paint/graffiti (called a Closed Forum), and First Amendment issues would not be a concern.

The city could also choose to allow paint/graffiti with some restrictions (called a Limited Forum), though this raises serious concerns about how to determine what would be allowed and restricted each and every time a new image or message is painted.

An Open Forum would allow almost anything.

Land restrictions

Most of He Mni Can - Barn Bluff was donated to the city in 1911 with a deed restriction that it should be used "for park purposes... ." Language in the deed also states "that the property shall in no manner whatsoever be defaced."

There is a question about whether deed restrictions have legal bearing, but the deed does show clear intent of the original property donors.

Commission recommendations

This past spring and summer, three city commissions — the Heritage Preservation Commission, Advisory Planning Commission, and Human Rights Commission — reviewed and discussed all background information on this issue. The HRC also held a well-attended public comment period where people shared a variety of opinions. In June, the three commissions voted unanimously to recommend that City Council establish a "Closed Forum" (no paint/graffiti) for the park and set a future date when the graffiti ordinance will be fully enforced. The commissions' top reasons include the following:

a) The land is sacred to the Dakota people;

b) The land deed calls for no defacing of property;

c) Current city law calls for no paint/graffiti on public property throughout city limits;

d) The land should be kept as natural as possible.

For more details on the individual commissions' reasons, go to www.red-wing.org/810/City-Commission-Recommendations.

Public forum: Monday, Sept. 10

City Council will be listening to public comments from the community during a public forum this Monday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers as part of the regular council meeting. I invite you to attend and share your thoughts. On Monday after the public forum, Council members will consider options and timing for any changes in policy.

You can find more on this topic's background, history, public feedback, and research here: www.red-wing.org/800/Graffiti-Policy-Discussion or contact me, Brian C. Peterson AICP, Special Project Manager, at brian.peterson@ci.red-wing.mn.us or at 651.385.3617.