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Publish Date: 4/12/2005

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Sylvia Kroeger of Longmont Citizens for Justice and Democracy holds an American flag bearing a peace sign while talking to Sue Ellis of Longmont during a March 2004 antiwar rally in near Colo. Highway 119 and Hover Road. Times-Call file photo/Eric Bellamy

Council to discuss permits for protests
Local anti-war group suspicious of proposal


LONGMONT — A city proposal to tighten and “clarify” permit requirements for parades, protests and other public gatherings has upset a group of anti-war protesters who fear for their Constitutional rights.

Tonight, city council will consider an ordinance requiring permits for parades and protests that will block streets or snarl traffic.

City officials say it will ensure that major protests can be managed and monitored by police and fire officials for safety purposes, and that it won’t affect small gatherings. They say the new permit requirements simply clarify existing policies and are not intended to prevent public gatherings as protected by the First Amendment.

But members of the group Longmont Citizens for Justice and Democracy are skeptical.

They see the city’s plans as an attack aimed directly at them, since they are the most frequent protesters on Longmont’s streets.

The anti-war group also has opposed the construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter and organized efforts that helped coax the city into changing the controversial name of Chivington Drive.

Further, one of the group’s most vocal members, Glenn Spagnuolo, is being investigated by his city supervisors, accused of misusing a city-issued cell phone and computer to advocate for controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.

The timing of the parade rules and the Spagnuolo investigation has LCJD activists fearing that the permitting proposal marks a clamp-down on dissent by the city.

“Our freedom of speech is slowly being taken away from us,” Ann Krohn Rick said last week.

Added James Kenworthy: “It seems pretty obvious to me, this ordinance has no regard for freedom of speech.”

City officials say that’s not the case. They point to a slew of other cities with similar, if not stricter, ordinances, to show that they are in line.

Under the proposed Longmont ordinances, all organized gatherings in public places will have to be cleared through the city clerk’s office. Previously, the police department handled parade permits, the clerk’s office dealt with downtown events, the parks department oversaw picnics and nobody really managed block party permits.

City clerk Valeria Skitt said the city has never denied a parade or event permit, with one exception: someone proposed landing a helicopter in the middle of downtown Main Street for a festival a few years ago.

“We said no to that,” said Skitt, who maintains that the proposed changes will clarify which city department — hers — is responsible for issuing permits. Further, Skitt said informal gatherings of the kind envisioned in the Constitution would remain unaffected.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The proposed ordinance specifically says the city has no intent on limiting speech.

Activists who want to hand out leaflets and carry signs are welcome anytime, as long as they don’t disrupt traffic or pedestrians, Skitt said. But they would need a permit to set up a card table on the sidewalk to display literature, she added.

There would be no cost for a people-only protest, the ordinance says, unless admission is charged or donations sought, according to the ordinance.

“You can stand there and hand (leaflets) out. But once you put something in the right-of-way, you need a permit,” Skitt said.

Specifically addressing accusations that the proposal would limit LCJD’s weekend anti-war protests on Main Street, Skitt responded: “We have never said no. We’ve never even issued them a permit. They can demonstrate peacefully without getting a permit.”

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.


What: City council meeting
When: Tonight at 7
Where: Longmont Civic Center, 350 Kimbark St.

 

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