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Protestors gathered on the Franklin square during a protest earlier this summer.

The Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday night to amend a section of the city’s Municipal Code that will require permits for protests, demonstrations or other public gatherings of a certain size in the city of Franklin.

The proposal was first presented to aldermen back in January, but was shelved until City Attorney Shauna Billingsley brought it back during a work session earlier this month. It led to a good bit of discussion at that work session and again during Tuesday’s work session preceding the regular meeting. 

Alderman Dana McLendon, 2nd Ward, was against the proposal when he spoke at the earlier work session, saying it would open the door to litigation against the city. He was absent at Tuesday’s meeting, however, and the proposal passed on the first of two readings by a count of 7-0.

The ordinance 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.

“I think we’ve put a good mechanism forward,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey said. “Is it perfect? Nothing is perfect. We’ll probably learn some things, but I think we’ve put a really good framework in place, and we did engage with other folks who have organized these kinds of things.”

Stuckey, Billingsley and other staff met with a variety of community leaders and advocates who have organized or participated in demonstrations in Franklin. One of those was Howard Garrett, a former candidate for a seat on the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen and a board member of the nonprofit Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition. 

Garrett told the Home Page earlier this month that he had issues with the requirement to have to file for a permit, saying that “I do believe that it violates First Amendment rights. I don’t feel as if we need to ask permission to exercise our First Amendment rights. That is the only issue I have with the bill.”

Stuckey said the opposite would be true, that a permit would be beneficial for all involved.

“There are some who have been critical and who have said this restricts speech,” he said. “I actually believe it facilitates it. It provides for a mechanism to have it happen and to happen in a safe way.”

Aldermen are likely to have a final vote on the matter at their next meeting Oct. 13.

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