CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — A couple involved in a dispute with the town has applied for legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
Kris and Marilyn Kristiansen, who sell art in Fort Williams Park, said they filed an application for assistance one day after the Town Council voted unanimously to limit the number of art vendors in the park to eight and to restrict their location to a grass-covered berm near a parking lot.
The Kristiansens declined to answer further questions, citing advice from the ACLU.
According to the application, the legal group “strongly recommend[s] that you not discuss your complaint with the news media while the ACLU is reviewing your complaint. (If we accept your case, your assigned attorney will speak to the press on your behalf.)”
ACLU of Maine spokeswoman Rachel Healy said the nonprofit legal group, which is dedicated to defense of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, recommends that applicants “refrain from discussing the matter publicly because doing so could have adverse effects on their case.”
Healy wouldn’t confirm whether the Kristiansens had applied for legal assistance, saying the information is “protected by attorney-client privilege.”
The ACLU website states that the group considers these questions when reviewing cases:
— Will the case set a civil liberties precedent?
— Will the case strengthen an existing but ignored precedent?
— What are the prospects of success and the risks of losing?
— How likely is the issue to recur?
— What educational opportunities does the case present?
“Even if your complaint falls within the above guidelines, filing a complaint does not guarantee that the ACLU of Maine Foundation will provide legal assistance,” the website states. It can take up to 60 days before applicants receive a response from the organization.
The town’s new rules on art vendors went into effect Monday, Aug. 19, a week after the council’s decision. During several meetings and a workshop during recent months, Kris Kristiansen had said that restricting the locations and number of art vendors in the park is a violation of First Amendment rights to free speech. The council, on the other hand, felt the restrictions are legally sound and will help preserve the scenic beauty of Fort Williams Park.
After the town’s vote on Aug. 12, Healy said the ACLU was keeping an eye on the situation and hadn’t ruled out taking legal action against the town.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said Wednesday that he was not surprised the Kristiansens filed an application with the ACLU.
“They have not kept it a secret that they’ve been trying to enlist the ACLU,” McGovern said. “To date, the town has heard nothing from the ACLU.”
Another of the Kristiansens’ grievances deals with the site the council picked for art vendors. The grassy berm sits about 600 feet away from Portland Head Light near a gravel parking lot.
Kris Kristiansen, an asthma sufferer, said dust from the parking lot could adversely impact his health.
McGovern said the town is aware of Kristiansen’s health concerns and took appropriate action. On Tuesday, Aug. 20, town workers treated the parking lot surface with a combination of “calcium flakes” and water that tamps down on dust.
“It should benefit everyone,” McGovern said. “It should keep everyone’s cars cleaner and should avoid any concerns with dust.”