To coincide with recent changes made to increase security at the county office building, the Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted 5-0 to alter its public assembly policy and relocate assemblies outside.
Public assembly, such as organized meetings and protests, was permitted in the lobby of the county office at 225 N. Center St., Westminster, and on the grassy areas outside the building facing the detention center, County Attorney Tim Burke said. The 59th Board of Commissioners voted this “fairly generous” policy into effect in 2011, he said.
“In light of the security measures that we adopted, that is probably not a wise idea, according to staff," Burke said.
The current and 61st Board of Commissioners in August approved swapping out building security officers for sheriff’s deputies and created a new sign-in system that scans a visitor’s identification card or driver’s license.
The commissioners changed the policy so public assemblies will be permitted outside by the fountain and sidewalk facing North Center Street, where citizens demonstrated as recently as September regarding prayers in county meetings. Public assemblies will not be permitted inside the county office building going forward.
Burke noted the 2011 policy came about when a group of citizens wanted the ability to collect signatures in the county office building lobby for a ballot initiative.
On Thursday, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, proposed to alter the policy further by eliminating public assembly inside the Distillery Building at 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster. Citizens were allowed to assemble there on the first floor, but Frazier said being inside gives people access to other floors.
“I just think that would be very difficult to police,” Frazier said.
The other commissioners supported Frazier’s suggestion. Instead, citizens will be able to assemble outside in Distillery Building in the courtyard area.
Additionally, the commissioners amended the policy to remove the portion about public assembly in the community meeting room of the Carroll County Public Library Administration Building at 1100 Green Valley Road. Burke said the library system has its own policies on public assemblies and he did not believe it needed to be included in the county’s policy, too.
Outside groups have also been allowed to use the county senior centers for public assembly. Celene Steckel, director of Citizen Services, requested the commissioners update the policy adopted in 2010 to reflect the changes they’ve already put into practice over the years.
These changes included: updating the senior center phone numbers, updating rooms available for public use, updating operating hours, relaxing the requirement for up to 12 week session scheduling to allow for any 12-week period, updating the group leader policy to say children must be supervised at all times, and more.