February 5, 2016
Southern Torch (3238 articles)
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City council denies permit for DeKalb GOP event

IMG_3694FORT PAYNE, Ala.—At the Fort Payne City Council meeting Tuesday night, the DeKalb County Republican Party (DCRP) was denied a permit to host a campaign event at the city-owned Coal and Iron Building.

A motion to approve the DeKalb GOP permit was submitted by Councilman Red Taylor and accompanied by a quick second from Councilman Walter Watson. But just as the matter was set to come to a vote, City Attorney Rocky Watson brought the process to a quick halt. Watson interrupted the vote, voicing his objection to the permit approval on the grounds that the applicant was a political organization and that approving the GOP event now could open the door in the future to unsavory or dangerous political groups, hate groups or others that could prove unsafe to the people of the city.

As recently as last year however, the sitting council approved permits for Republican, Democrat, and Tea Party events, all held on city property. The issuance of activity permits to reserve or approve the rental of city facilities must first be approved and voted upon by the city council. Despite the required formality, any outcome contrary to a unanimous yes vote from the current council is highly unusual.

DeKalb GOP Chairman Mark Ford voiced stern disapproval of the council’s decision. “The DeKalb County Republican Party  has for years rented from the City of Fort Payne even as recently as December 2015,” Ford said. “I am perplexed as to why, without reason, they failed to approve our request. I understand that the attorney even noted there are no legal reasons to prohibit us from renting the building. My question is, have we been denied the rights that others were granted?   The current policy I think allows for us to rent. I respect changing policy to protect the citizens, but doing so midstream is confusing to a non-hate group.”

Despite a lack of any known threats that have resulted from other recent political events held on city property, Attorney Watson was adamant that he opposed authorizing the DCRP’s request, and that approving the permit could prove dangerous for the city. “There’s no rule against it obviously, but if you make it available to political parties, it has to be all political parties even if it were Isis,” Watson said. “I think we had a couple (political events) at the pavilion last year, some in the city park and we had several Tea Party meetings. Like I said there’s nothing illegal about it. There are some parties out there that it could become an issue with though. We would have to accept all if they’re a recognized political party—the Libertarians, the Socialists, the Communists, the Nazis.”

Councilman Walter Watson, who originally seconded the motion to approve the permit noted that he obviously was not in favor of approving permits for extremist groups like those mentioned by Attorney Watson, but did not see a threat from renting to Democrats or Republicans. Councilman Watson said however that if opening the Coal and Iron Building to traditional parties also opened the building to the groups Attorney Watson mentioned, he felt all political groups should be denied permits for events held at the Coal and Iron Building.

Councilman Dana Goggans pointed out to the council that in years past, in the case of extremists groups like those mentioned by Watson, the city had denied permits. “I don’t remember specifically when, but we have turned down rallies we didn’t want in the past and then later still allowed other groups to have rallies,” Goggans said.

“I’m not telling you you can’t do it,” Attorney Watson stated again. “But once you open the door, the door is open for all.”

Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser responded to Attorney Watson’s comment about open doors, “Did we not already open that door last year by having events for both parties at the pavilion last year? And we’ve allowed the park to be used for the Tea Party more than once.”

“Well that doesn’t open it for the Coal and Iron Building,” Attorney Watson responded.

As conversations about hypothetical threats from hate groups, terrorists, extremists and Libertarians, waged on for several minutes, eventually religion was thrown into the mix. “While we’re discussing that, is the political realm extended to the religious realm? If we allow Methodists or Baptists, we have to use our park for some function and an Islamic group, which I don’t reckon we have around here, or Jewish or Catholic or whatever—we couldn’t turn them down either.”

Unrelated to Watson’s observation regarding religion, Goggans asked, “So the way we have it right now, they (DCRP) would be allowed to have the event at the pavilion or in the park if they wanted, is that correct?” Goggans would then make what would be the final effort of the evening to salvage the group’s proposed event. “We could wait until there is an issue with an event that comes to us,” Goggans said. “We could let this event go on and when something comes to us down the road that’s questionable, we cut it off at that point.”

“No. You can’t wait until you get that,” Attorney Watson responded. “It has to be either, or.”

A suggestion to table the matter was posed, but the point was brought up that the event is just a few days away, tabling the matter wouldn’t do any good.

“Well, I’m saying in essence that we turn this one down,” Attorney Watson said, “but it might be good if we call the League and some other municipalities to determine what we’re going to do in regards to political parties and political requests.”

As it appeared that the permit would not be approved, Fort Payne City Clerk Andy Parker asked for clarification. “So we tell them no?”

“We’ll take some time to take a look at this to make sure I’m not making a mountain out of a molehill, but I’m pretty sure I’m not,” Attorney Watson said.

“So, on this item?” Parker questioned again for final clarification.

“Just no action,” Attorney Watson explained. “Therefore it’s not approved.”

In a conversation with Southern Torch on Wednesday, Mayor Larry Chesser said that he thought that any reasonable organization, political or non-political who approaches the city requesting facility rental should be eligible to do so. He said he is full support of the council and their decision to put together a formal policy regarding political events.

Both the mayor and council members expressed optimism Wednesday that a policy could be reached very soon. To watch the full video of the meeting from Tuesday night, visit Southern Torch’s Youtube page.

 

 

 

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

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