Discussion of Council Vote on Pride Event Continues

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Jonathan Chace (at podium) addresses the Chestertown council — (L-R) Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 4, the main topic of interest was the continuing discussion of the council’s vote on a permit for an LGBTQ Pride event. The vote, at the Feb. 19 meeting, granted the permit by a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson in dissent. The two opposing votes resulted in considerable adverse comment and controversy following the meeting.

Tolliver, in his regular ward report, said he had reached out to members of the LGBTQ community, including some of the organizers of the festival, after the meeting. “We have sat down, discussed our differences, and made some headway as to how we move forward together, understanding that we all have different opinions about how things should be,” he said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Kingstown resident Jonathan Chace spoke on the controversy. Chace began by thanking Tolliver for his willingness to open dialogue with the festival organizers. “I think that’s important to the town, and I think we need more of it,” he said. He then turned to the council as a whole. He asked them to imagine that they had permit requests from several different groups to hold events in Fountain Park. The groups supported causes including clean rivers, farming, Make America Great, Black Lives Matter, and reproductive rights. “Which one of these do you like?” he asked. “Which ones will you approve? Which ones will you disapprove?”

Jonathan Chace

He then stepped back – “I’ll take you off the hook. You don’t have to decide,” he said. “That’s because the town council, I believe, should not be in the business of approving or disapproving any event based on its content or subject.” Instead, Chace said, the council’s responsibility is “to review each permit in the same way that thousands of towns and cities across America review their permits.” That would mean asking questions about safe and orderly movement of traffic; use of emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulances; whether the event is likely to cause property damage, injuries or disorder; and availability of sanitary facilities, garbage cans, stages, and barricades. “If you on the town council think these questions, not the subject of the event, have been resolved, then you can vote to approve the permit. If not, disapprove it, that’s it.”
Chace concluded that if the council conducts its approval process along those lines, the town “can take great pride in celebrating its First Amendment to the Constitution, the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.”
No-one else on the council or in the audience addressed the issues raised by the Feb. 19 vote. However, before the meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll sent an email message to council members, which he copied to the Spy, outlining the basis in the town’s charter for approving events. The relevant passages are found in the Streets and Sidewalks ordinance, which he attached along with the form for the permit and the Parades ordinance, which he noted does not apply to the Pride event, which is not planning a parade. The full ordinance can be reached from the town’s website

The most pertinent sections are 145-13 A, 145-14, and 145-17. Section 145-13 states “It shall be unlawful for any individual, association, corporation, or organization to use the streets, sidewalks, public rights-of-way, or town-owned property for any event or activity without first obtaining a permit from the town as provided in this article;” Section 145-14 states what information applicants must provide to receive a permit. Section 145-17 says “Whenever the town finds that an activity requested under §145-14 is not in the public interest or represents a threat to public safety or is not an historically accepted event or activity, it shall deny the permit application.” Ingersoll noted that “historically accepted event” simply means one that has been conducted regularly over the years and is therefore considered traditional.

Ingersoll added, “You may recall that your own precedent for a permit to come before the Council on a mandatory basis, a month before an event, is the closing of any street. This last one (the Pride Day) came before you because of the requests being made for the stage, for banner, etc. That is also a precedent that we have.

“I sign many perfunctory permits that don’t require the use of Town streets or do not ask for Town help with stages, police, or street department preparation or cleanup.”

In short, as Ingersoll said in an interview before the meeting, the criterion for a council vote is the use of town resources such as the stage, which requires the town crew to set it up, or police presence, both of which require the town to pay for staff hours, often at the overtime rate. Also relevant is the need to avoid scheduling two events for the same time and place. The Pride event is to take place in Fountain Park directly after Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 4.

At the meeting, the council also approved an update to the Critical Areas portion of the zoning ordinance and heard complaints from a Queen Street resident about the condition of the street. The council was also advised that Washington College is planning to sell some surplus property, including a house on Washington Avenue and the large vacant lot at the corner of Route 213 and the bypass. Look for additional town council reports in future editions of the Chestertown Spy.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Gren Whitman says

    I support Chestertown’s Pride event on May 4, and hope I can attend.
    Unfortunately, it’ll be in competition with Rock Hall’s all-important municipal election on the same day.

  2. rachel goss says

    Thank you, Chestertown Spy, for focusing on Procedure. I think it is very important for everyone to understand the process.

    I find Mr. Chace’s comments Spot-On…Short, Sweet, and To The Point.

    We will not all agree. That is human nature. We can, however, live together peacefully. Communication is Key.

    I had looked through the Codes under Parades because the explanation showed Parade to mean: “any Parade, March, Ceremony, Show, Exhibition, Pageant, or Procession of any kind of any similar display in or upon any street, park, or other public place in the Town.” I am glad to understand there is a Streets and Sidewalks Ordinance.

    I look at this as a Teachable Moment for all of us. Rev Tolliver has already started a conversation…that is Wonderful! Our Council, and citizens, all have a better understanding of How It Works for future events in Town.

    • Rachel Goss says

      I have reread to article, and read through the Codes noted in the article.
      I am now struck with another inquiry. Where in the Code will one find the Criterion/Precedent information as mentioned below?

      “Ingersoll added, “You may recall that your own precedent for a permit to come before the Council on a mandatory basis, a month before an event, is the closing of any street. This last one (the Pride Day) came before you because of the requests being made for the stage, for banner, etc. That is also a precedent that we have.,”
      “the criterion for a council vote is the use of town resources such as the stage, which requires the town crew to set it up, or police presence, both of which require the town to pay for staff hours, often at the overtime rate. ”

      Mind you, I am not looking to die on a hill, here. I just think it is important to have Clear information.

  3. Kevin Shertz says

    Congratulations to Chestertown Town Council, which has single-handedly managed to fuse both the eras of when gays were required to have sham marriages with the (probably undeserved in the modern era) stereotype of African Americans being homophobic. The main takeaway for me is that after the last election meant that Chris Cerino on Monday nights is presiding as an Activities Director at an adult-day care center. See you at the next ballot box, fellas.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says

      I hear you. I feel the same when I am told “prominent people you know in town” still support Trump. It makes me want to curl up and cry for our country. And I despise these people. How dare the bigots and happily misinformed be acceptable? They are not “acceptable” and they know it. Now we have the Town Council where two men feel insulated enough in deep red Kent County to express blatant homophobia. This is just sick.

      • Brian Deluca says

        How is this comment acceptable to the administrators of this page? The above comment from Ms. LaMotte is bigoted and hateful and has no place on this forum.

  4. John Vail says

    Thank you as always, Jonathan, for clarifying the issue so succinctly.

    One would think you’d been trained in conflict resolution!

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