Broward News

Broward Commission Rejects One Proposal Requiring Permits for "Expressive Activities"

The Broward Commission unanimously voted down a draft ordinance proposed by County Administrator Bertha Henry to require people to apply for and obtain permits to engage in "expressive activities" at county facilities -- a mandate that many members of the public see as a stab at the First Amendment.

However, the opportunity remains for a similar ordinance to appear before the commission again.

About 24 members of the public addressed the commission; surprisingly, not one person rose in support of the proposed permits.

In anticipation of the public outrage that was expressed, Commissioner Ilene Lieberman submitted a new draft ordinance that is much less restrictive but still calls for people to apply for the permit and comply with the regulations that come along with it.

Ron Gunzburger -- son of Broward Mayor Sue Gunzburger -- likened the turnout of people in opposition to the proposed rule to an "intervention" for the commission and explained one of the finer points of free-speech rights.

"The best thing about free speech is that it lets us identify the village idiots who live among us," he said.

A man named Robert Mitchell used his allotted time at the lectern to play a song on his guitar -- with a tambourine backup in the audience -- which included a refrain of "Vote no."

Donald Sheldon, chairman of the Broward County Libertarian Party, summed it up nicely:

"Broward is a free-speech zone -- period. End of discussion," he said.

After around an hour of public comments, Henry explained herself.

She claimed that people are misunderstanding the rules she's proposed, but she says it's the opposite. Henry didn't quite explain how that's true but did say, "When people gather en masse, we should know they're coming."

That drew boos from the public, leading to another talking-to from the mayor.

Commissioner Lieberman said people have been treated differently at different county locations and told the public the First Amendment was not "absolute." She spent quite a while explaining how her draft ordinance was not only a great idea but also compliant with the First Amendment.

She twice brought up an ordinance passed in 1995 that requires a permit to engage in several free-speech activities at the airport that is much more restrictive than the current proposal -- like limiting events to four people.

An important point made by Lieberman is that it doesn't affect "traditional public spaces" like sidewalks but rather county property such as courthouses or libraries.

Still, Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness didn't quite like the idea, especially the fact that Lieberman and Henry said they liked the rule changes for organizational purposes. He said the disorganization that sometimes comes with a flurry of free-speech activities can be "beautiful."

Commissioner Kristin Jacobs reassured the public that the draft ordinance proposed by Henry "has not been embraced" by the commission, although Lieberman did seem hell-bent on pushing her own version of the ordinance.

Vice Mayor John Rodstrom Jr. explained that he didn't even understand why the issue was here and being discussed. He said he's waiting until the appropriate time when he can make a motion and reject any proposed ordinance on the subject. Commissioner Chip LaMarca echoed a similar sentiment.

Commissioner Lois Wexler said she was apprehensive of the word permit but was a fan of some sort of application system to know who's at a certain location in case damage to county property were to occur and also explained how many other counties and Broward cities that require permits for various things on their respective properties.

The issue of Occupy Fort Lauderdale was brought up by Commissioner Barbara Sharief, who noted that the draft ordinance in its current form would not accommodate the Occupy protesters and actually called for more accommodations -- like bathrooms and trash cans -- to make both sides happy.

Mayor Gunzburger said it had "nothing to do" with Occupy Fort Lauderdale, that this has been in the works for quite a while.

See all of the documents submitted thus far in the matter -- including the ACLU's alternate ordinance that does not mandate any sort of permit -- by clicking here and going to item 38.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley