Mayor, City Attorney Seek Delay on Free Speech Zone Ordinance

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(APN) ATLANTA — A City Attorney will recommend to the Community Development/Human Resources Committee of the Atlanta City Council they postpone for two weeks the consideration of the controversial Free Speech Zone (FSZ) ordinance, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

“At the CDHR meeting this Tuesday, June 12th, I, on behalf of the Law Department, will request the Committee hold the pending ordinance for two weeks so we can meet prior to the ordinance moving forward,” Robin Sharar, Senior Assistant City Attorney, wrote, in a June 8, 2007, letter to Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

“I think it’s the right thing for them to do,” Weber told APN in a phone interview. “My understanding is they were going to take it off, but they have to have the Council endorse that. They anticipated that would happen. I’d be very surprised if it’d be considered [Tuesday] after their representations to us.”

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s Office also requested the delay and further review of the bill.

“The Administration has asked the City Law Department to meet with the ACLU, event organizers, and other interested parties to discuss concerns regarding the pending Free Speech Zone ordinance. During this time of consideration, the Administration will request that the City Council withdraw the legislation,” a press release on the City’s website says.

Activists protested at City Hall Thursday, June 7, 2007, to bring attention to the ordinance which would create FSZ’s for so-called counter-protesters at any Outdoor Event or Assembly in Atlanta. The ordinance, among other things, would restrict citizens’ First Amendment Rights to the FSZ under threat of arrest. [See full article: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/news/0170.html ]

Activists are still planning to make public comment at the CDHR Committee Meeting on Tuesday, June 12, though, and Weber said he intended to schedule the requested meeting as well.

CDHR Members are Chair Jim Maddox, Vice Chair Joyce Sheperd, and Councilpersons Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood, H. Lamar Willis, and Ivory Young.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore has some serious concerns about the bill as well, telling APN she’d only seen the bill when it came up for a vote last week. Moore said she joined all of the other Members who voted in sending the bill back to Committee.

Originally, the bill had been scheduled for a full Council vote, Weber said.

Meeting Minutes show Councilwomen Lisa Borders and Mary Norwood did not vote, while three others were absent, including Mr. Maddox, who had authored the bill in the first place.

“I am writing as a follow-up to your comments at the June 4th City Council meeting regarding the pending FSZ ordinance. At that meeting, you expressed you legal concerns regarding the ordinance and your desire to work with the Law Department in an attempt to resolve your concerns,” Sharar wrote [abbreviation added for brevity].

“I therefore request we have a meeting to discuss the pending legislation. In addition… I recommend the City invite one or two festival organizers to the meeting, and that you invite whomever else you deem appropriate,” Sharar wrote.

ORDINANCE UNPRECEDENTED

“As we re-emphasized to them we think the ordinance is not fixable. It cannot be tweaked here and there and make it Constitutional,” Weber said.

“Case law says the only time Law Enforcement can step in and essentially break people into groups of protesters and counter-protesters is if there’s a public safety risk,” Weber said.

“It’s fundamentally flawed. No other City has done it,” Weber said. “Nobody’s done it by ordinance, created automatic free speech zones; that’s what is truly unique.”

The preamble to the ordinance says its intent is to protect event attendees from counter-protestors.

However, Weber argues that would be undemocratic and unnecessary.

“That’s the gist of free speech is, everyone gets to speak their minds. We have to be a country that’s tolerant of other people’s views, that’s sort of the heart of Democracy,” Weber said.

Meanwhile, he said potential public safety problems, like violence and hate speech, are already illegal.

“If there was a protest that became very volatile, like a Klan rally and a group protesting against the Klan, then the Police can step in. This ordinance creates this situation every time,” Weber said.

“I think we’re on the way to success I hope, but all that’s been done so far is to slow the process,” Weber said about the bill.

“I think [the protest] had a lot of influence, absolutely, but it’s not over til it’s over,” he said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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