Casper City Council passed on first reading a proposed ordinance about parade permits and special events that in part guaranteed free speech rights.

The ordinance, and a companion Special Event Planning Guide and Policy, came about after a series of controversies after the annual motorcycle awareness parade in May.

Several residents noted problems with obtaining permits, the time it would take to appeal a denial from the city, and questions about who should have insurance for an event.

It also addressed First Amendment issues about the rights to assemble and for free speech.

City Attorney John Henley told the council that the existing ordinance was rather broad and could have been interpreted to place obstacles to people wanting to meet.

The ordinance placed a process in the Event Planning Guide to promptly appeal to the city a denial of a permit and to receive a prompt response, Henley said.

The ordinance requires people who want a permit to obtain appropriate general liability insurance, he said.

The Special Events Planning Guide and Policy would allow the city to waive fees for events organized by indigent people, Henley said.

Mayor Charlie Powell said the ordinance would forbid the city from denying a permit to organizations whose content may be considered objectionable, like the Westboro Baptist Church which Matthew Shepard's funeral in October 1998.

 

The ordinance has a provision for an "unpermitted pedestrian parade" -- that would be allowed after the Casper Police Department is notified -- to conduct an event in either Conwell Park or City Park between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Those events would be allowed if no other organized event is happening or if another group has reserved the park.

"Thus, a demonstration or protest or worship service could go to a usual public gathering place without the need for a parade permit," according to a memo from city officials including Henley to City Manager Carter Napier.

"This would permit a gathering of people in the event of a national disaster -- for some type of remembrance or memorial service, upon some contemporary event which motivated people to show their solidarity with a particular group or idea or show their solidarity against a particular group or idea, or to have an ad hoc prayer service or other gathering."

The Special Events Planning Guide and Policy also allows the city to quickly approve a parade permit if a group wants to march, worship or protest if it wants another place besides Conwell Park and City Park.

Powell thanked Casper resident Paul Paad, who frequently spoke to council and raised uncomfortable discrepancies between the former parade ordinance and the event guide. Paad was not at the meeting.

Council will hear the proposed ordinance for second reading at its Oct. 15 meeting.