Committee Vote Likely Dooms Free Speech Zone Ordinance

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta City Council’s Community Development and Human Resources Committee (CDHR) unanimously recommended Tuesday to file the Atlanta Outdoor Events Ordinance, which called for Free Speech Zones for protesters, possibly spelling the end for the controversial proposal.

The City Council will consider the ordinance with the Committee’s recommendation to file when Members meet on June 18, 2007. Councilman Jim Maddox, who introduced the bill on behalf of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s Office, said of the recommendation: “That means [the ordinance] will be dead.”

Greg Pridgeon, Mayor Franklin’s Chief of Staff, addressed the Committee and asked that Members file the ordinance so “the stakeholders who are engaged in discussion and debate are given a chance to get together and have further discussions.”

“This legislation was well-intentioned and… was put forth at the request of the Administration,” Pridgeon said. “We are here today to say to this audience and this Committee that we may have been premature in the ordinance we set forward.”

“I want to express my appreciation to the Full Council, the Mayor and this Committee for reconsidering the free speech ordinance,” Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Committee Tuesday. “I want to thank all the folks in this room who have been on your phones telling you this is the wrong path to go.”

The Committee voted May 29, 2007, to send the ordinance to the Full Council for a vote. But reservations from certain Council Members and the outrage from activists led the Council to send the ordinance back to the Committee on June 4, 2007, for reconsideration.

“I don’t think the Council should have done anything but dump it to begin with,” Jack Jersawitz said of the ordinance. “It shouldn’t have ever been a subject of discussion.”

Jersawitz was one of a dozen other activists who took to the podium at City Hall to condemn the so-called “free speech” ordinance and the City Council and the Mayor’s office for creating the ordinance in the first place.

While there may not have been discriminatory intent, the “discriminatory impact” that would result from enacting the ordinance “is an important thing to consider,” RJ Thompson said.

“How dare this Council even consider such a free speech [ordinance]. How can you do it?” asked Cary Duncan, an activist with the ACLU who has watched the activities of the Council for years.

“This is about protecting corporate power, big government, the powerful from hearing the voice of the marginalized, the disenfranchised,” Dianne Mathiowetz said. “It is absurd for any one of you to have thought it was anything but that. You should be ashamed, we are ashamed you even brought this ordinance forward.”

“We’re overseas now, we got people dying–fighting for the right to say how we feel and what we think about,” Leeland Woods said.

“That’s free speech: people who have died,” Duncan said. “Dr. King died so you could sit there,” he added, pointing to Committee Members in attendance, all of whom are Black.

Duncan said he was once proud of Atlanta but now he is not, “especially those Council [members] who have chosen [this ordinance].”

Weber told APN he hopes concerned citizens will attend the June 18, 2007, Council Meeting to ensure “the final nail is in the coffin” of this ordinance that he said is “riddled with errors.”

“I would hope people who signed onto that ordinance would think twice and that you will take action to right those wrongs,” Duncan said.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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