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We need to talk about the rights to party

    After the commissioners suddenly cut short efforts to create a special events ordinance last week, three things became pretty clear.

1.The idea of requiring gatherings of as few as 50 people to pay $100 and register was far too draconian a suggestion.
2.The aborted effort was a disservice to the county as no clear procedures are in place.
3.When the going got heated, our elected three-person board of commissioners ran for cover, instead of leading.

    The county’s land development officer mis-stepped by tossing out the idea that parties of as few as 50 people might need a permit.
    But, he didn’t err that badly as it was plainly pointed out this was the first idea to get the ball rolling, not something intended as a final draft.
    There were at least two more meetings scheduled to take input on the proposal.
    The attendee threshold could have been raised to 200 or 500 or 1,000 or changed entirely to just apply to events that charge people. Only governing events that have a commercial component would have appeased many of the critics worrying about whether their get-togethers would fall under the watch of government.
    But just because the public firmly rejected the idea of regulating 50-person gatherings, doesn’t mean we don’t need a special events ordinance.
    The commissioners ran scared at a time they should have been leaders.
    The planning director’s original rationale for the ordinance was sound - public safety personnel and the public in general need advance notice when a large event is on the horizon.
    What the issue devolved into is a vague state where it is unclear if, or when, any regulations govern large public gatherings. It was noted special events might be best handled on a case-by-case basis. That idea sounds good but is too arbitrary; case-by-case based on what? The whims of the commissioners?
    Planning commission chair Bill Cagle responded to several questions at their stalled hearing by saying that common sense and what is “reasonable” would come into play with special events.
    He noted that it was common sense that live bands would disturb people if they were still rocking after 10 p.m. And for people in rural areas over 30 years of age that is very reasonable, but ask a group of 20 year olds attending a wedding what time they think the party should stop and we suspect that 10 p.m. would be a little early.
    At the commissioners meeting and planning commission, the county attempted to pass off their current disturbing-the-peace codes as sufficient for all purposes.
    Wrong codes and wrong answer. Of the 18 points covered in the disorderly conduct statues, only one seems applicable to a general event. The other 17 address crimes like public fighting, misleading 911 operators and using vulgar language. The one that does apply addresses noise. But the county doesn’t have a genuine noise ordinance so it’s tough to say when or how it would be applied.
    The code says that creating loud noises which disturb or interfere with the peace and tranquility of the public is a violation.
    Would a single blast of fireworks violate this? Would a church singing at a sunrise service? The description is so broad that children on a playground might constitute a violation.
    One member of the public hit the nail on the head when he asked during the planning commission meeting how these codes that mainly address “hooligans” are going to apply to a big wedding?
    They don’t. They were never intended to. That is why the land development officer had been studying event ordinances in surrounding counties and the city of Blue Ridge.
    That process, unfortunately, was squelched. Recently at a dinner, two of the commissioners said they had heard all they wanted to about this subject. They may not want to hear about it any more but our prediction is that this party hasn’t reached its cut off time yet.