The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Yesterday’s report that Arlington County policy may leave First Amendment protesters subject to arbitrarily enforced rules should give us all pause.
The actual wording of the special events policy would apply to “one or more persons” with even just the “propensity to attract a crowd.” The remedy for police, presumably, would be to tell a small group or individual to go home or face a fine of indeterminate size.
As reported here in ARLnow, some sort of administrative language from county staff is supposed to be forthcoming to clarify the policy. Those holding up signs outside of a political event they disagree with may not be subject to its enforcement. In the the meantime, county staff’s current policy toward its enforcement is effectively “trust us,” according to yesterday’s report.
The reality is the policy as written could conceivably give the county the ability to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it applies and to which group — or even a single individual. It opens the door for county staff to make that determination based on the content of the speech. Imagine, for example, the county staff or Arlington Police Department gets a call from an angry Board Member whose event is being protested.
Giving the Board the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume it was not their intent to prohibit concerned citizens from peacefully or spontaneously protesting. Hopefully, Board members will have county staff recommendations on the policy by the time of the September Board meeting.
But, it should have never been passed without more specific clarifying language. As written, it may take more than a county staff clarification to effectively protect Arlingtonians from potential abuses. The Board itself should probably re-address the issue.
Next time, maybe someone will stop and think about what wording of a policy actually means before they pass it. There should be no question as to whether diversity of political opinion will be welcome in Arlington.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.