GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Tuesday, city officials met for a Common Council meeting that gave the OK to changes to a city code that has been the target of a lawsuit for months.
City code 87 requires a permit for any and all political rallies of 25 persons or more. The city defines those gatherings as “any public assembly, parade or other event involving more than 25 individuals,” but wrote the code in response to a series of political rallies in Glens Falls’ Centennial Circle.
Some of those rallies were held by American Patriots Express, or “APEX,” who filed a lawsuit against the city in June, claiming that the requirement for permits was a violation of the first amendment. In July, a temporary injunction was granted in the case, which has kept Glens Falls from enforcing the code as it currently stands.
One of the changes approved Tuesday relates to part of that lawsuit directly. The city code originally allowed 14 days for a permit to be approved or denied, plus a delay period of another 14 days where deemed necessary. Now, the turnaround on those permits will ha+ve to be within seven days.
The lawsuit from APEX cited concerns that requests for permits would be delayed without reason. It did not allege that any such discrimination had taken place, but said that organizers had called off several potential rallies for fears that it could.
That change in the window came with a new addition to the code. Section 87 previously did not include a definition of a “spontaneous demonstration,” which several political rallies and protests have been classified as, and which the city has said the law was written to avoid.
Now, the meaning is spelled out. According to the revised law, a spontaneous demonstration is any demonstration not planned at least seven business days ahead of time; the same amount of time it will now take for a group to get their permit approved or denied.
The revisions also included lifting a ban on face masks at rallies, which was in direct reaction to a comment from a caller at the meeting. That rule was initially put in place to discourage any unlawful behavior from individuals to be protected by anonymity.
The code keeps its rules against blocking streets and sidewalks, which the city has cited as a public safety concern. They have also noted the demand rallies and protests put on their city police department.
The city’s defendants in the case include Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall, Police Chief Anthony Lydon and City Clerk Robert Curtis.
Named as plaintiffs are APEX co-founders David Vanscoy and Florence Sherman, as well as an unnamed 17-year-old Warren County resident.
Questions and clarifications
APEX voices did not call in at the Common Council meeting Tuesday night; only two residents phoned in to the city’s meeting, streamed live on YouTube.
One was Nick Collins, a local resident who voiced concern over whether City Code 87 was needed when Glens Falls already has other forms of large group ordinance in place. Large groups and parades already need permits to gather in City Park.
Mayor Hall honed in on that distinction; the protests and rallies are by no means limited to City Park. In fact most have taken place elsewhere, such as Centennial Circle or outside the office of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.
With that fact taken into account, Hall said the law was needed as a way to fill in gaps left otherwise open by those other laws.
The other caller was Robin Barkenhagen, who asked if the code still prohibited the wearing of masks. Upon confirmation that it did, the council promptly decided to lift that ban.
Members of APEX have raised concerns in person at previous Common Council meetings over the 25-person minimum listed in the code. Vanscoy asked at a meeting in April what he should do if he planned a rally with under 25 people, only to have enough additional people show up to push the gathering over the cap.
Mayor Hall’s answer was to simply apply for a permit anyway, even if passing the limit is only a chance.
It was unclear at the meeting Tuesday if the changes to the code would lead to the lawsuit being dropped, or the conversation around it altered.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking for City Code 87 to be deemed unconstitutional and enforcement end; nominal damages awarded to each plaintiff; Florance Sherman be awarded damages; and any further relief deemed appropriate in court.
APEX is represented by lawyer Thomas Marcelle in the case.