PINE ISLAND — The consensus was fairly clear.
The Pine Island City Council unanimously agreed to a new ordinance regulating public gatherings.
According to the ordinance, any gathering of 25 or more people — or a gathering intended to draw that many people — on public property must obtain a permit from the city.
"The reason why this was brought to council in the first place is we didn't have a paper trail (for gatherings)," said council member Kelly Leibold. "And I want to ensure people's First Amendment rights are not trampled upon."
City Administrator Elizabeth Howard said the ordinance would allow the city to know what gatherings are happening and would allow the city to recoup costs associated with some gatherings. It would also ensure that gatherings remain safe. Safety would range from having restrooms for large gatherings, sufficient water for participants, trash collection, and even security or law enforcement if necessary.
The permits would be used for everything from people using a park for a family gathering to music festivals or demonstrations, Howard said. The permit would require a $50 fee, which could be used to help defray some of the city's costs associated with gatherings.
The protests in Pine Island over police brutality and the death of George Floyd have cost the city in public works hours and law enforcement.
For large gatherings — Howard suggested assemblies of 200 people or more — the city could even require a bond. However, the application fee could be waived in the instance where a group is already paying for the use of a city park, for example.
Howard said the need for a permit ordinance for public gatherings has been a long time coming. In addition to the $50 fee, it creates an application process, something the city had lacked.
The ordinance was based on ones used by other cities. Howard pointed to the town of Independence, which is represented by the same law firm that employs Pine Island's city attorney.
Council member David Friese asked how the city would gauge whether to charge a fee or require City Council approval for a gathering. Howard said that decision would be left up to city administration to use its discretion. But larger events would likely require council approval, and smaller ones could be handled simply by administrative approval.
Finally, applications for a gathering must be made 45 days before the event to allow the council time for approval if necessary, the ordinance reads.
"It does give the city some oversight," Mayor Rod Steele said of the ordinance. "It's long overdue."