CHAMPAIGN — At its meeting Tuesday, the Champaign City Council will consider having a Black Lives Matter mural painted on the street or sidewalk in front of the City Building.
Multiple cities across the country have painted similar murals on their streets this year, but some have also faced First Amendment lawsuits because of the murals.
In a memo to the council, city staff said the Black Lives Matter mural would be considered “government speech,” so it wouldn’t be making the street a free-speech zone.
“The ‘government speech doctrine’ establishes that a governmental entity is entitled to select the points of view it expresses. The government is not required to endorse or speak in favor of ‘both sides’ of an issue or message,” the memo said. “However, the determination of what constitutes government speech versus private speech is the subject of frequent litigation.”
If the city commissioned a mural without specifying the message, the speech could be considered private, staff said, but if the message is specified, “this would almost certainly be considered an exercise of government speech,” the memo said.
Lawsuits were filed against New York and Washington, D.C., over their murals and are still pending.
Champaign city staff looked at having the mural painted on the sidewalk on Chester Street, the loading zone north of the City Building, the Chester Street parking spaces or on the street.
Staff recommended not painting the mural on sidewalks because it can be slippery, which would open up the city to lawsuits.
“The City has denied past requests to paint public sidewalks because of the liability risk to the City,” according to the memo.
The mural could be created by city staff, by commissioning an artist or by hiring an artist through the purchasing process, city staff said.
Because of the cold weather, the mural couldn’t be installed until the spring.
If the public works department painted the letters, it would cost $3,000 initially, plus $1,000 for annual maintenance, according to city staff.
Using preformed paint or thermoplastic letters would cost $1,600 initially, plus $3,200 a year for maintenance, as this process requires the letters to be replaced twice a year.
Contracting with a local artist could cost between $5,000 and $10,000 initially, staff estimated, depending on the size and complexity of the mural.