Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
People may need permit to protest
Committee recommends enacting new city law
By William Kincaid
Anybody wanting to engage in public demonstrations or picket lines on Celina city grounds, streets and sidewalks may need a permit.
City council's community betterment committee on Monday night recommended an ordinance requiring the new permit as a tool to manage multiple organizations or groups from using city grounds for public assembly.
The ordinance will be reviewed by the full council at its next meeting, 7 p.m. June 22 in the conference room of the GAC water plant. Council members are rushing to get it enacted before Freedom Days, scheduled for July 3-5, which means it likely would have to be passed an emergency measure.
The proposed legislation was prompted by a few incidents that occurred during festivals last year, where a few arrests were made for disorderly contact after protesting got of hand. According to Mayor Sharon LaRue, one of the cases was thrown out by a judge because the city had no related policy.
If the ordinance is passed, "any meeting, demonstration, picket line, rally or gathering of more than one person for a common purpose as a result of prior planning that interferes with the normal flow or regulation of pedestrian or vehicular traffic or occupies any public area in a place open to the general public" would require a permit.
The permit would be obtained by filing an application with Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser. The applications would have to be completed at least 10 days before the planned activity.
"We don't want to keep people from doing this stuff," Slusser said.
If denied, the applicant would have the right to appeal to the Celina Board of Control, manned by LaRue, the safety service director and city auditor.
Violators of the proposed legislation would be charged with a misdemeanor of the first degree.
On Monday night, council members said the ordinance would act as a tool to prevent other organizations from directly impeding on grounds already set aside by others.
"To create a barrier against conflict," Councilman Rick Bachelor said.
For instance, the Freedom Days organizers lease the ground where they hold their festival.
"This would create some ownership for them," Bachelor said.
Public assemblies could possibly be held but at a designated area, some said.
However, Councilman Bill Sell said he thinks it's crazy to arrest and fine someone $300 for carrying what could be a peace sign. He pointed out that Celina resident Cheryl Davis holds peace vigils near Lake Shore Park many times in the summer.
LaRue said other events, such as weddings and Relays for Life, also are held in the same area. These events now will need a permit first.
"Is that something you want to do to events showcasing the city?" Bachelor asked, pointing out that political tea parties, weddings, the Governor's Cup Regatta and the Halloween parade could be fined.
"Our intention is the permit, not the money," LaRue said.
The proposed ordinance included a $25 application fee, but those in attendance thought it was unnecessary and removed the item.
"We're probably sending the wrong signal if we charge on top of that," Councilman Jeff Larmore said.
Councilman June Scott suggested the city have a policy to tell groups to move on.
Bachelor added that the city does not need to have two events at the same venue on the same day.
Also, Bachelor said Celina City Assistant Attorney Angela Nickell said the policy in question has been held up by judicial review in other areas.
The proposed ordinance includes guidelines for both public assemblies and parades. But some council members thought the provisions for parades were unnecessary as an existing parade policy already exists. Police Chief Dave Slusser and Bachelor will tweak and possibly combine the existing parade legislation into the new proposed ordinance.