If the Congressman won’t come to you, go to the Congressman. Or not.

If the Congressman won’t come to you, go to the Congressman. Or not.

Updated to include statement from American Civil Liberties Union.

If the Congressman won’t come to you, go to the Congressman. But watch out if that Congressman’s office is in a private building.

A group of young Democrats in Arapahoe County found out Tuesday that they would be blocked from entering the building that holds the Aurora office of Republican Congressman Mike Coffman.

Tuesday, a dozen members of the Arapahoe County Young Democrats took more than 200 letters and postcards to Coffman’s Aurora office at 3300 South Parker Road. The building is known as Cherry Creek Place IV, and is home to dozens of companies, including real estate brokers, attorneys, title, insurance companies and accountants.

Coffman’s website shows the third-floor office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

When the Arapahoe County Young Democrats, led by Kronda Seibert, approached the door of the building, they were met by a man, later named by both Seibert and the building property management as Wiley Price. Price identified himself as a building property manager, told them that only one could go upstairs.

When they protested, arguing that the office was paid for by taxpayers, he said: “Alright, you know what, I’m not going to argue about this. You can either go now or I’ll have you arrested.” 

Seibert said that Price told them they could not protest in the building, to which Seibert replied that that was not their intent. Seibert said Price also said that protesters were “bothering” people in the building.

Eventually, Seibert, alone, was allowed to go to Coffman’s office to drop off the letters. She informed JD Key, Coffman’s political director, of what had happened, and said he responded that the building was private property. The Colorado Independent called Key but had not heard back from him by deadline.

When Seibert returned to the parking lot, she said a man who identified himself as a police officer was addressing the group, telling them they could be on the sidewalk but not in the building. According to the group, the man, who was dressed in “grungy” jeans, t-shirt and a blue hoodie, came from inside the building and flashed a badge at the group, but they didn’t get a good look at it. Seibert said the man denied he was building security and claimed he was a “police officer” but refused to provide his name.

The Young Democrats, along with members of Indivisible Aurora, part of the national anti-Trump Indivisible movement, have been visiting Coffman’s office every week for the last six weeks, delivering letters to the Congressman’s staff. Seibert said they have been peaceful in those visits.

This week’s letters came from a “With or Without Mike Coffman” town hall sponsored by the Young Democrats and held last Thursday at the Aurora Central Library, in the same room that Coffman had used in January for a public forum. Coffman was invited numerous times to attend last Thursday’s town hall, which drew more than 100 people. Seibert said he never replied to any of those invitations, which she sent by email and phone.

Related: Will Mike Coffman hold his planned town hall in a “very large venue” by phone?

In recent weeks, members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, both Republican and Democrat, have turned to tele-town halls rather than face-to-face town halls. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma hosted a 45-minute telephone town hall this morning that drew nearly 10,000 participants and listeners, according to ColoradoPolitics.com.

Gardner was a no-show at two “with or without” town halls in Denver and Fort Collins last week that drew more than a thousand people.

Related: Watch: The Cory Gardner town hall without Cory Gardner

It’s not just a Colorado issue. Members of Congress, most Republicans, returned home for the President’s Day recess to find constituents, often angry, flooding their public events. It harkens back to 2009 when angry Republicans, including those from the Tea Party, jammed town halls held by Democratic members of Congress.

Andrea Valenzuela, who works for the property management company for Cherry Creek Place IV, said the building has been the target of noisy protests and vandalism in recent weeks, though she made clear she was not blaming Seibert’s group for the trouble.

“We don’t want any problems,” Valenzuela told The Independent, adding that the management company doesn’t want to get into the middle of a political issue. “If people have an appointment with the Congressman” they can come in, she said. “We’re here to protect our tenants.”

Coffman’s website says nothing about having to make an appointment just to get into the building.

Calls to both the Aurora Police Department, to verify the identity of the officer at the building, and to Coffman spokesman Dan Buchelli were not returned by deadline.

A check on the location of district offices for Colorado’s congressional delegation found most are located in private buildings, where the office is on the second floor or higher. The outlier: the district offices for Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, whose Boulder and Fort Collins offices are both accessible from the street.

 

Seibert pointed out that Coffman’s website lists open office hours. She said the inability of constituents to visit during those hours is an abuse of the Congressional funds that pay for the office.

Nevertheless, she said, the Arapahoe County Young Democrats plan to continue visiting Coffman’s office every week. If, she said, Coffman thinks that “by ignoring us we will go away,” he is wrong.

The incident has raised eyebrows for the American Civil Liberties Union. In a statement to The Independent today, spokesman John Krieger said “The Constitution guarantees all individuals the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  When the office of a representative has significant barriers to access, it sends a distressing message to that representative’s constituents that their opinions and concerns are not welcome.

“If those barriers are exclusive to people who disagree with the representative and they include confrontations with security or police, it can have a chilling effect against the truly patriotic freedom to dissent that this country was built on.”

 

Video credit: Arapahoe County Young Democrats

Photo credit: Sarah Blume, the Colorado Independent

 

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

6 Comments

  1. David Fellows on said:

    Thank you for your story. I just got off the the phone with JD Key and he confirmed constituents are welcome to drop off letters and postcards to the office. He said if there are rules regarding entry of the building those would be put out by the building management, not by Mike Coffman’s office. Could you try to find out if the building management company has written rules regarding entry?

  2. Hollace Wright on said:

    Did the congressman’s office instruct building management to deny entry to constituents? Isn’t it a violation of federal and state government funding laws to limit access to certain members of the public based on their political party? And what is the penalty for impersonating a police officer? These are the first questions that come to my mind.

    The behavior of this congressman and his staff might warrant a full investigation.

  3. John Buckley on said:

    The United States taxpayers spend over $77,000 per year for that district office.* Any reasonable attempt by a constiuent or constiuents to deliver a peaceful message to their elected representative should not be prevented.

    *http://disbursements.house.gov/

  4. JohnInDenver on said:

    Perhaps we can ask the Attorney General of the State for her opinion about this apparent limitation of access to a Representative?

    And in my very limited experience, if an officer is unwilling to identify himself, chances that he is acting in accord with agency policy are slim and none. I do hope you persist in getting a statement from the Aurora Police Department.

  5. David Tanner on said:

    I am certain that Mr. Price can have individuals, or groups, he deems disruptive, arrested for trespassing. As property manager, it’s his decision. Cherry Creek Place IV is private property. They are obligated to protect the interests of ALL their tenants. BTW, they also can prohibit the use of camera and recording devices in the common areas of their building, and prohibit such groups from parking in the building’s parking lot.

    The function of a local congressional office is to do constituent casework — assisting constituents, who are having problems with a federal agency. It is not to provide a stage for a protest group to make their latest You Tube video… like seems to have been done with Mr. Price, a private citizen. Incidentally, was his permission obtained to use his likeness, since it was taken on private property? Maybe you should run that by his attorney.

    It is unrealistic to expect local congressional staff to drop the casework they are doing, on behalf of constituents, to meet with unexpected and unscheduled protest groups.

    Despite the bluster of the ACLU, and the post of John Buckley, there is NO evidence that constituents are being prohibited from delivering a peaceful message to their elected representative. Quite to the contrary, I clearly heard Mr. Price indicating one person could go up to deliver such messages.

    It doesn’t take a group of people — some with signs — to deliver letters or petitions. The local staff is just going to forward them on to the Washington office anyway. Policy and legislative matters are handled in a congressional DC office, not the local one.

    Most individuals, or small groups, do make an appointment before coming to a congressional office in DC or locally — or most any other professional office — just to make sure the appropriate person(s) will be there when they arrive.

    Apparently, pro-illegal immigration groups, in the past, caused several buildings, that have congressional offices, to establish rules because of previous rowdy protests. I have no doubt that the other tenants, in this professional office building, object strenuously to antics of such protestors, especially if they are occurring weekly.

    There is nothing for anyone to investigate with Coffman’s staff. You can be sure one tenant does not dictate the rules of any building. The Aurora PD is not going to identify what may have been a plainclothes officer at the scene. Apparently, it did not bother the protestors enough to press the issue further at the time, so it is irrelevant. The attorney general represents the State of Colorado in legal matters. The state government has no role in this matter, so they will not get involved, especially since the “problem” seems to be with the property management.

    Lastly, Marianne Goodland’s news story requires a small, but significant, correction, if it is to be deemed credible. No congressional office has a “political director.” (Every political junkie knows this.) I do not know what JD Key’s job title is, but it certainly is not that. To report it as such is just sloppy journalism and, needlessly, casts doubt on the veracity of other claims in the story. She needs to verify JD Key’s current title and fix that. Otherwise, this is just a propaganda piece and not a news story at all.

  6. Jamie on said:

    Mr. Tanner,

    Your response contains some punctuation errors. Please correct them. Until then I can only assume you are uneducated and unable to give a credible response to this article. Due to these small errors, your response can be easily summed up as “fake commenting”.

    A simple error or mistatement is no grounds to claim a piece of journalism is fake news. Please use your “big guns” when you actually need them.

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