Tryon to allow more public comment for picketing ordinance

Published 11:47 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tryon Town Council is giving the public at least one more chance to make comments prior to adopting an amendment to its code of ordinances for parades and pickets within town.

Commissioners met April 16 and held a public hearing and discussed latest changes to the draft. Only two residents asked questions and council held a general discussion about the proposal.

The draft includes that anyone wishing to picket or parade in town must file a notice of intent. The current draft does not include a fee for the notice with the majority of council members expressing they do not wish to add a fee.

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One question raised last month by council was how far away from open businesses the town can restrict picketers. Town attorney Bailey Nager said he and town employees surveyed downtown and determined that a radius of 10 ft is appropriate. He said if you restrict it to a 10 ft. radius there’s still room on the sidewalk to picket but if you restrict it larger than 10 ft. it would exclude any areas on the sidewalk to picket.

Nager said commissioners should also note that there is language in the ordinance that says picketers cannot interfere with pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. In the existing town ordinance there was a distance of 15 feet required between picketers with the current draft including no distance required between picketers due to the language being problematic, according to Nager.

Tryon officials have taken caution in drafting the ordinance to not infringe on a person’s First Amendment right to free speech. The town has discussed the ordinance over the last few months, held a public hearing last week and decided not to adopt the ordinance until next month and allow for the public to comment once again.

Commissioner Doug Arbogast asked if the town can refuse someone’s permit for a parade.

Nager said there is a list of reasons why the town could refuse a parade, including any wrongdoings the person or group may have done in past parades or the town could refuse a parade if it’s a bad time for traffic reasons. If it’s anything that pertains to free speech, Nager said, they have every right to do so and the town could face trouble if they refuse them their free speech.

Commissioner Roy Miller asked if the town could establish time periods that picketing could occur in town. He said say picketers begin at the clock tower starting at 8 or 9 a.m. and they stayed all day.

Commissioner George Baker said he thinks creating time zones is something the town can’t do.

“As long as they are orderly and not trespassing the time and place doesn’t enter it,” said Baker.

Nager said there is language that picketing can’t be done in front of an individual residence and that language has held up in court.

Discussions of an ordinance first surfaced following an Oct. 21, 2012 demonstration downtown where more than 50 members of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church gathered along the sidewalks holding signs against abortion.

Commissioners met the next month and asked if there is anyway to regulate future protests with some saying there was an issue with the demonstration blocking businesses.

The current draft states that picketing cannot be done within a 10-foot radius of the entrance to an open business. Picketing in front of closed businesses will not be regulated.

The ordinance will be considered during council’s May meeting after another opportunity for public comment. The draft ordinance can be viewed on the town’s website at under news/events or a copy can be requested at town hall.