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Rehoboth amends special events ordinance

First Amendment Right to free speech now recognized
May 14, 2019

Story Location:
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Rehoboth has modified its special events ordinance to account for the First Amendment Rights of citizens who demonstrate on city property.

During a workshop May 6, commissioners voted unanimously to amend an ordinance passed last year to include a section on public activities “where the primary purpose is to exercise the rights of assembly and free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Crafted by the city’s police department, the original ordinance was passed by the commissioners in October. In January, half-a-dozen citizens questioned its constitutionality during a public comment portion of a commissioner meeting. In February, Ryan Tack-Hooper, Delaware ACLU legal director, also challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. Originally, the ordinance called for applicants to submit a request at least eight weeks before the event and pay a nonrefundable base fee of $600.

In his letter to commissioners, Tack-Hooper said, the notice requirement was too long and lacked exceptions. He also criticized cost-shifting requirements impermissibly broad.

The revised ordinance now differentiates between events and activities protected by the First Amendment.

For special events, the ordinance still calls for an advance request of eight weeks, but the fee has been changed to a nonrefundable $50 processing fee and a $550 deposit that, depending on the city services required, may be returned. The ordinance also notes special events of significant size or scope may require an additional fee.

The amended ordinance allows the city manager to  require, as a condition of issuing the permit, the applicant deposit $2,500 if the city manager concludes that the cost of the cleanup after the special event will exceed $2,500.

For activities involving free expression of First Amendment rights which the ordinance calls “expressive activities,” an applicant is required to give the city manager 36 hours notice. There is no fee, but the applicant shall be responsible for the removal of all of applicant’s debris, litter and  property upon conclusion of the activity. The city has the authority to clean up at the expense of the applicant.

During the recent meeting, Glenn Mandalas, city solicitor, said there may be times when even 36 hours is too much advance notice. If there’s a spontaneous demonstration and people are exercising their First Amendment Rights, he said, city staff and police know to get out of the way and let it happen.

Joanne Cabry, a county resident with a Rehoboth mailing address, has been one of the vocal critics of the original ordinance. She has attended every meeting since January when the item has been on a commissioner agenda. She thanked the commissioners and Mandalas for being willing to work on the ordinance.

“With all the cynicism about government these days, it’s encouraging when elected officials, who may or may not have agreed with us at first, listened and recognized that something had to be fixed,” said Cabry.

A few days after the city passed the revised ordinance, May 10, Tack-Hooper said he had worked with the city through the redrafting process. He said he hadn’t seen the final version voted on by the commissioners, but if it’s what he helped worked on, he said, it’s substantially better than before.