Save My Fairgrounds Denied First Amendment Right to AssembleMayor Karl Dean's government is stooping to a new low by spot-prohibiting assemblies and protests on public property. When Mayors can cherry-pick the demonstrators they can tolerate and those that they will not, then they have lost any claim to semblance of legitimate governance. The right to social protest at the Courthouse has been eroding since August. Metro Parks is the latest public service to be converted into a mayoral weapon. This has moved past a question of wise policy to the exercise of outright tyranny against opponents of municipal proposals, even as small groups of Nashvillians more favorable to Mayor Dean may enjoy the prospect of special hearings.
Group denied rally permit for Courthouse Public Square
Nashville, TN — The “Save My Fairgrounds” Coalition has been denied a permit to hold a small rally on December 7th in advance of the Metro Council meeting to discuss the Fairgrounds closure and relocation issue. The rally was to be held at the Public Square at the Metro Courthouse, which is controlled by the Metro Parks Department.
Gordon Richard, Event Coordinator for Metro Parks, verbally approved that permit before the Thanksgiving Holiday, but reversed his position Monday November 29th, citing “an edict that came down” instructing him not to award any permits on the nights of Council meetings. Gordon previously approved a permit for a Council meeting night, November 16th, but a physical permit was never received.
A representative from Save My Fairgrounds re-submitted an application on Tuesday November 30th requesting a rally for December 7th, and was again informed that public rallies on Courthouse Square on nights the Council meets are prohibited. Gordon refunded the permit fee of $250 and instructed Save My Fairgrounds to speak with Jackie Jones, the Public Information Officer for Metro Parks. Mr. Richard stated he was unsure if the “edict” came from the Mayor's Office or the Metro Council office. An email to Ms. Jones was not returned.
Save My Fairgrounds calls on the Mayor and Metro Council withdraw the "edict" and allow a public rally consistent with our First Amendment rights to assemble on the evening of December 7th, prior to the Council meeting.
Jackie Jones may be reached at (615) 862-8400.
UPDATE: WSMV has more information, including Parks denials and a council member's skepticism about what was really going on behind the official curtain:
The head of the parks department, Tommy Lynch, said there was no attempt to limit free speech. Lynch said it was a misunderstanding.
"We made a mistake in our office, and it started with me," Lynch said.
He said a person in his office misunderstood comments he made regarding issuing permits on council meeting nights.
"Once it became obvious to us that they had been denied a permit, that decision was changed," Lynch said.
He said the group will get a permit.
Councilman Michael Craddock said he isn't convinced that the city made an honest mistake.
"I think it's absolutely criminal for government to try to deny people the right to speak," Craddock said. "All of these people in the Parks Department and the mayor's office are well-seasoned politicians. They've been around government for a long time. They know what they're doing. They just got caught at this one; that's all this is."