Monday, February 11, 2008

PFA Statement on First Amendment Rights on Ellsworth Drive

In the summer of 2007, a controversy occurred concerning First Amendment rights on Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring. Ellsworth, part of the Downtown Silver Spring retail center developed by PFA (a partnership of Peterson Companies, Foulger Pratt and Argo Investment), is a publicly-owned street that is privately leased. After a demonstration on July 4, the County Executive and County Attorney determined that First Amendment rights applied to Ellsworth Drive. At the time, management spokesman I. J. Hudson said:

"We’re reviewing the [county attorney’s] opinion and generally have no arguments with the general principles that First Amendment rights apply to parts of downtown Silver Spring, including Ellsworth Drive."
Last week, Chip Py, who led last year's demonstration, told Just Up the Pike and the Silver Spring Penguin that he was recently prevented from distributing political literature on Ellsworth. PFA issued the following statement on the incident:


The management of Downtown Silver Spring recognizes and supports the public’s First Amendment rights along Ellsworth Drive.

On February 8th, a gentleman was distributing political pamphlets on Ellsworth Drive, as is his right. He was asked by DSS courtesy officers to come to the management office, at which time the management reviewed the DSS property policies and determined that he and any other individuals would be well within their rights to distribute the pamphlets. This was immediately communicated to this person by management. In fact, this person was specifically advised that he was free to continue distributing the political pamphlets on Ellsworth Drive and we believe he did so.

As the result of community concerns about Downtown Silver Spring's policies last year, DSS property management, Montgomery County government and other concerned parties began an exhaustive review of first amendment rights along Ellsworth Drive. Given the unique public-private nature of DSS, all stakeholders wanted to ensure the rights of the public were understood and honored, at the same time respecting the rights of the property owners to protect the activities of their tenants and the public at large.

This review was completed and new rules were issued protecting First Amendment rights and providing for other applicable DSS property policies. We are also in the process of further communicating our new policies to the public, tenants and security and support staff.

In the daily business of maintaining and monitoring activities at DSS, and providing for the needs of our patrons and its businesses, from time to time visitors are asked to visit management offices to review policies and procedures. It is never our intention to keep people from expressing their First Amendment or any other rights.

We apologize to the community if anyone felt that our precautions were inappropriate, however briefly they may have occurred. We would like to emphasize that individuals are free to distribute political materials and exercise their other First Amendment rights along Ellsworth Drive.

We respect the rights of all our guests and other visitors to DSS. It is our hope that the public understands, once again, that any rules and regulations are painstakingly considered and then enacted only with the rights and needs of the public, our tenants and the community at large in mind.