Assembly permit ordinance headed back to city commission, with changes

Assembly permit ordinance headed back to city commission, with changes

Tuesday, May 21, 2024–4:37 p.m.

-David Crowder, WRGA News-

An assembly permit ordinance is headed back to the Rome City Commission but with a major change.

In April, the original proposed ordinance requiring a permit for gatherings of 25 or more people was tabled after Commissioner Bill Collins expressed concerns about the impact on gatherings at neighborhood parks. According to Collins on any given Saturday or Sunday, there are Birthday parties, pickup basketball games, or soccer matches at local parks that draw more than 25 people. Although the events cited by Collins were not the focus of the original ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Frank Beacham went back and amended the draft to create a category of events that are not considered assemblies that are defined as ‘non-expressive events.’

“That’s a term that I did not invent,” he told the Rome Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. “That’s a term from the federal case law at the circuit court level, and at the United States Supreme Court, that term it used. So, in a lot of places we used the word assembly, and now we are going to use the words assembly or event to describe these gatherings. Then you get them split up into assemblies, which are when you are there to do things that are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and then there are non-expressive events like pickup basketball games with 50 people there.”

Some examples of activities that are in the non-expressive event category that are not subject to the assembly permit process include recreation, family gatherings, games, arts and crafts, reunions, Birthday parties, government agency events within the scope of their government function, spectator sports, grilling, barbecues, picnics, park or trail cleanups, and training activities such team building events.

However, there is a cap on the number of people that can attend a non-expressive event. Beacham told the committee that after working with Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney and her staff, it was determined that the public safety branch of the city government would want to know if a large event was taking place. So, a limit of 75 attendees was put into the proposed ordinance.

“In other words, if your event has 70 people at it and you’re just playing basketball or something, you don’t need to go get a permit,” Beacham said. “We had to pick a number somewhere, and we came up with 75. We found some big cities that had numbers of like 150 or 200, and we just thought that was a little for a city of our size with a police department of our size and a fire department of our size.”

The ordinance only applies to events held on public property, and the 25 or more requirement for assemblies such as protests or demonstrations would still apply. The ordinance also addresses counter-protests to make sure it reflects existing case law. Essentially, you can be a counter-protester and express your opinion, but you cannot interfere with the permitted event.

Commissioners Harry Brock and Jim Bojo, who serve on the public safety committee voted to send the ordinance to the full commission for consideration. Collins, who is the third member of the committee, was not in attendance.

You can read the draft ordinance below.