Annapolis approves law billing organizers for events in city

February 09, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

After almost an hour of debate and one alderman choosing to abstain from voting to demonstrate his opposition, the Annapolis city council passed an ordinance last night to charge event organizers for city facilities and services.

Ward 3 Democratic Alderman Samuel Gilmer abstained from voting.

The ordinance, which Ward 5 Republican Alderman Herb McMillan introduced, aims to reduce taxpayer-subsidized use of city facilities and services such as police overtime and trash pickup during the hundreds of events that take place in the state capital every year. The ordinance, which goes into effect July 1, will give the city council the power to review events that cost the city more than $300.

With 17 amendments, the ordinance was approved 6-2.

"It's a big step forward," McMillan said. "It is different from the way we've done business in the past."

The ordinance has stirred a dispute from the start. When McMillan introduced it in December, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Virginia Beach-based American Center for Law and Justice lashed out at the city for trampling on citizens' First Amendment rights to march and demonstrate without being charged.

McMillan and City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke worked with the two organizations to craft an amendment that would protect free speech.

Nonprofit organizations and other event organizers also testified at city council hearings against the ordinance, voicing skepticism over whether it would help Annapolis or deter organizers of events that bring revenue to the city.

Last night, Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat, emphasized that even with the amendments, "the ordinance must be carefully administered to avoid First Amendment problems."

Gilmer repeatedly questioned the need for the ordinance, calling its wording "vague." He said the amendments watered it down to the point that it does not change the procedure for obtaining a permit and funding to organize events. The mayor now approves permits.

Gilmer characterized the ordinance by saying, "We're charging some people for some things, and we already have the power to charge certain people for certain things. So what is the need for the law? I couldn't find [anything] in there that's different from what we're doing."

McMillan argued that the ordinance does make changes because it gives the city council a say.

"If this ordinance does not do anything different," said McMillan after the bill was approved, "then why did all these groups fight against it? It puts the city council in the driver's seat."

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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