Town follows Mint Hill in adopting new rules for parades, picketing
People wanting to host a parade or picket in Matthews now have new rules to follow – and they must pay a $100 fee.
Town commissioners voted Monday, July 23, to approve amendments to the town code that place restrictions on parades and picketing.
The decision was, in part, a way for the town to prepare for situations that may arise with September’s Democratic National Convention. Mint Hill passed a similar ordinance in May, which also bans overnight camping on town-owned property. Mint Hill’s ordinance doesn’t charge a fee.
“We have to go in and take a look at some of the ordinances that we currently have in place and … in some cases do not have in place, so that we’re properly prepared, not just for this special event coming up, but just in general for responses to things that might happen in the community,” Matthews Police Chief Rob Hunter said Monday. “We do not currently have any ordinance in place or any process in place for any groups or organizations that would come in and ask to hold a parade in the town.”
The changes address groups which want to hold parades or picketing demonstrations that would use town streets and property. Hunter said the goal of the ordinance is to clarify the standard practice the town has currently been using for such demonstrations, which are constitutionally protected through the U.S. Constitution.
Chapter 101, which the ordinance created, defines terms like “town manager,” “parade permit” and “picketing” that would be used in cases where a group expresses a desire to demonstrate through parades and picketing. The ordinance requires those wishing to conduct or partake in a parade to obtain a permit from the town and hold the parade only during daylight hours.
In addition, the ordinance prohibits groups from picketing in front of a private residence or interfering with vehicular and pedestrian traffic on streets and sidewalks, and forbids people from unlawfully obstructing, impeding or interfering with any person, vehicle or animal taking part in the parade.
Hunter wasn’t particularly concerned about receiving a lot of requests from groups wishing to hold a parade or picketing demonstration, but agreed the ordinance was necessary to protect both individuals’ constitutional rights and the town’s ability to maintain the peace.
“I have to say, quite frankly, we don’t have many requests for that. I can think of two or three instances maybe over the 20-something years when we’ve had different organizations or a group that comes in and asks for that right,” Hunter said, adding that the ordinance is modeled closely after the one currently in place in Asheville.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor suggested adding a fee for groups and organizations that might want to come in and use town property for a parade demonstration, but was cautioned by town attorney Charles Buckley not to charge too much.
“Fees have been upheld in certain cases, fees have … resulted in the entire ordinance being held unconstitutional (in other cases),” Buckley said. “You cannot create a chilling effect to someone who otherwise has a right to assembly.”
Commissioners agreed to add a $100 fee to ensure a parade permit applicant is serious, as well as to cover legitimate town expenses.
“There are constitutional opportunities to cover your legitimate expenses,” Buckley told commissioners. “But it can’t be too high that you have a chilling effect on it.”
For more information on the new ordinance, visit www.matthewsnc.gov.