Delaware County Commissioners discussed updating the county’s Facilities Use Policy with other officials Thursday. One of the items discussed was possibly designating the steps of the old courthouse as a permit-free zone.
Commissioners did not take any action following the discussion nor was a decision made concerning the matter.
The discussion was prompted by Jane Hawes, communication manager, regarding revision of the current policy that was developed in 2002.
“The current policy and the proposed policy only allows for 10 days prior to an event that somebody has to apply for the permit,” she said. She asked commissioners to consider “creating a mechanism” allowing the county to issue permits in less than 10 days.
Due to the political climate in the country as of late, Hawes told the commissioners, local groups have staged weekend rallies on the steps of the old courthouse without securing a permit.
“I’m quite certain they don’t realize they should have had a permit to do that,” she said. “Fortunately, they are a very peaceful group, but I’m concerned that we’re setting a precedent that maybe other, less peaceful groups might think that if they can do it, so can we.
“Is it possible to make the steps of the courthouse a permit free zone?” Hawes asked. “Sort of a speaker’s corner, like in London (England)?”
Hawes said in an email, “A $25 per hour fee can be levied if an event on county property, for which a permit has been obtained, occurs outside of normal business hours and if it requires the expenditure of county monies for security or cleaning.”
Commissioner Gary Merrell said the courthouse seemed to be a traditional place to hold political rallies, but wasn’t sure what the answer was when it was a spur of the moment situation.
“Doing it the last minute really makes it a meaningless process,” he said. “If you’re going to have a permitting process, you’re either going to have it or you don’t.”
Hawes suggested pre-screening existing groups that might see the need the to hold a rally on a whim. Merrell said the suggestion would work with those that follow the rules and not with those groups that don’t like to follow rules.
“There are some groups that would not allow the process to stand in the way, I’m guessing,” Merrell said.
Aric Hochstettler, prosecuting attorney, suggested looking at other jurisdictions and what policies they’ve enacted.
“Drawing a line between types of events gets tricky from a Constitutional perspective,” he said. “The Constitution allows for governments to institute time, place, and manner restrictions. Trying to come up with all the exceptions that might occur, that is more tricky to draft.”
Hochstettler said he can adjust the time, place, and manner restrictions, but he wasn’t sure how to address the problem.
“I understand the concern of not wanting to allow certain groups to violate our permit policy, because when we want to enforce it, we won’t be able to or we won’t have good legal footing to do so,” he said. “I don’t have an easy answer on how to address it.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.