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Proposed Ordinance Addresses Demonstrations, Events on County Property

by on January 03, 2018 3:56 PM

The Centre County Board of Commissioners is considering a proposed ordinance that would formalize security protocols and registration processes for protests and events on county property.

Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize advertising of the proposed ordinance.

County Solicitor Betsy Dupuis said the ordinance would codify security protocols already in place at county facilities and develop a process for registering events and demonstrations. The protocols in the ordinance "are being done across the state so nothing going on here in Centre County is at all unique," she said.

The ordinance creates the position of chief security officer, which would be the Centre County Sheriff unless he decided not to take on the role. It also recreates a security committee, which the county has had at times in the past and would be co-chaired by the sheriff and county administrator, with other members appointed by the commissioners. The other members could be county personnel or non-county personnel with security expertise. The committee would be advisory and propose  security procedures and policies.

The ordinance designates areas for demonstrations or events. At the courthouse, those include the sidewalk in front of the statue located along South Allegheny Street; the sidewalk on the north side of East High Street along the courtyard area, between South Allegheny Street and the paved area before the courthouse step; and the sidewalk on the south side of East High Street.

The sheriff would have discretion to allow events in other areas and provides guidelines for separating multiple demonstrations happening simultaneously.

"It gives parties a safe place that they don’t have to commingle and they can protest either side," Sheriff Bryan Sampsel said. "That’s our biggest concern is keeping people separated that aren’t of the same mindset and give them a safe place to do it. I just think it’s a good idea to have them separate if they’re going to conflict each other."

Sampsel said it also allows safe access to the courthouse and other facilities. He added that, in general, people are usually not allowed to demonstrate or hold events on the courthouse steps because they could impede access and pose a danger of someone falling.

"This is content neutral. The sheriff won’t discriminate based on the ideology or thoughts," Commissioner Michael Pipe said. "This is purely just a where do you do it, when do you do it and how do you do it. Just allowing time, place and manner to be uniform across anyone who wants to utilize it."

Groups of two or more who plan to demonstrate on county property would be required to notify the sheriff's office at least 24 hours in advance. Demonstrations involving more than 10 people would require a permit and all demonstrations and events would require a form to be submitted to the sheriff and commissioners.

Commissioner Steve Dershem said he appreciates that registration of sanctioned events would allow the board and county staff to know what will be going on at a given time and make sure overlapping events aren't scheduled for the same location and time.

Dupuis said other Pennsylvania counties and municipalities use similar procedures to ensure events are properly permitted and scheduled.

"I think it is prudent to have events go through a process," she said. "I think it gives you the ability to ensure that all the right permits are in place and the use of your property is permitted. If people have to get a separate permit from the borough of Bellefonte that is a separate issue, but it allows you to know they’ve done that, they’ve taken all the necessary requirements for whatever they’re doing."

Pipe added that the ordinance "balances opportunity for citizens to demonstrate and make their voices heard but it also balances the safety requirements. It does a really good job. It’s really a template for other counties or municipalities that want to adopt similar ordinances."

Commissioners voted for the ordinance to be advertised, allowing two weeks for public inspection and feedback before it comes to a vote.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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