Franklin Mayor Ken Moore cast the deciding vote Tuesday night to approve the amendment of a section of the city’s municipal code that will require permits for protests, demonstrations or other public gatherings of a certain size within the city.
Saying that “it’s rare that I ever have to vote” during a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Moore was called on to make the decision after voting among aldermen ended in a 4-4 tie on second and final reading of the amendment.
“I think that we’ve been trying to do it right and we have been doing it right, and we’re just trying to memorialize what we have been doing,” Moore said. “We’re not trying to stop the topic of the speech. We’re trying to create a safe environment for not only people that want to express their opinion, but I also want to make sure that we’re protecting the public and protecting the physical structure of our city.”
Voting for the amendment were Aldermen-at-Large Clyde Barnhill and Ann Petersen, Margaret Martin, 4th Ward, and Scott Speedy, 3rd Ward. Voting against were Aldermen-at-Large Brandy Blanton and Pearl Bransford, Dana McLendon, 2nd Ward, and Beverly Burger, 1st Ward.
The ordinance specifically states that permits for public gathering and expression events will be required for events that are larger than 20 or more participants or if street closures are requested. The application must be submitted at least 48 hours prior to the event.
On first reading of the bill from three weeks ago, aldermen voted 7-0 in favor. Some, however, said they have since heard from constituents asking them not to support the amendment. Groups such as The Public Franklin and Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition have voiced opposition, and a group of protestors known as The People’s Plaza organized a protest for Tuesday night against the city of Franklin’s proposed amendment.
McLendon has been the most vocal alderman against the amendment, going back to when the proposal was first discussed last winter before it was shelved for several months and then back on the agenda in September.
“Democracy is not always tidy,” McLendon said during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting. “The things that need to be protested don’t lend themselves to convenient schedules.
"This ordinance will probably do more harm than good. … I think we’re going to find ourselves in a regulatory morass, and even if that weren’t true, I’m just not going to support an ordinance that requires people to tell us when and where they plan to protest.”
Blanton said she had had a change of heart on the issue since she voted for it on first reading Sept. 22.
“I’ve been supportive of this,” Blanton said, “but the more we’ve talked about it and the more feedback I’ve gotten from the public, I think the layers that we’re putting on this with the best of intentions are making people feel like their freedom is being usurped.”
City Administrator Eric Stuckey and City Attorney Shauna Billingsley worked with staff to create the amendment and bring it forth to aldermen.
“When you look at what we’re actually doing,” Stuckey said, “I think it more clearly facilitates and protects the exercise of free speech, because it grants the use [of city property], it makes the rules clear for everyone.”
Click here to see the video from Tuesday’s meeting.