GLENS FALLS — The Common Council met in executive session Tuesday to get advice from legal counsel about how to regulate the ongoing protests downtown to protect public safety and respect the demonstrators and downtown businesses.
The council met for about 45 minutes in the room adjoining the Common Council chambers that is also used for jury deliberations and holding prisoners during City Court.
Police Chief Tony Lydon joined them and different council members could be heard raising points about the First Amendment issues involved in regulating protests.
Following the executive session, the council voted on a tax assessment settlement, but did not discuss the protests issue.
Mayor Dan Hall opened the second public comment period, and after no one sought to speak, adjourned the meeting.
Hall said after the meeting that the city is still trying to get a handle on the proliferation of protests downtown. It is a work in progress, he said.
“We met with the different groups. We’re still researching on what we have to do,” he said.
He said he could not provide a timetable on when the matter would come back before the council for review.
Protesters have expressed concern about vulgarities being shouted at them and counterprotesters intruding on their personal space.
Councilwoman-at-Large Jane Reid said after the public meeting was adjourned that she believes the council would review a proposal at its next regular meeting on Oct. 8. Reid said the council will likely look to other cities, such as Saratoga Springs, in drafting such a law.
“The question is whether or not we’re going to have to amend or create a new local law to address these issues, and that’s what we’re struggling with now,” she said.
She said it is unfortunate that the city has to step in to regulate the protests, due to the fact that they have taken on such a tone that people are not acting respectfully toward each other.
“If that is going to continue, City Hall is not going to be able to tolerate that. We’re going to have to take steps to protect the public on our own,” she said.
City officials have talked about some type of permitting system with no fee involved. It may just involve filing information at City Hall about the protest, Reid said.
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She said this would allow the city to make sure they have the right amount of police and fire staffing.
One issue is traffic and making sure that vehicles are flowing freely through Centennial Circle and not having large groups of people moving through, according to Reid. The city has put up barricades during protests to keep people out of the circle.
Another issue is noise. She said the mayor met with the various groups and they agreed not to use any sirens, but people are still using megaphones to amplify their voices.
“We do have an ordinance that regulates decibel levels, so if it continues to be an issue, there will be people there with meters,” Reid said. “People will be equipped to be able to enforce the written law as it stands.”
Reid also pointed out the potential economic impact on local businesses.
“We also have people who have made a large investment in our downtown restaurants and are feeling an economic detriment in the manner to which some of these demonstrations are carrying out,” she said.
Reid said no business owner has come to her directly to complain, but she has heard anecdotally of concerns from the downtown community. She said she has friends who had wanted to dine out in Glens Falls on Friday and instead decided to go to Lake George.
Reid said there needs to be a balance between people’s freedom of speech and downtown business owners’ economic viability.
“If people would act with mutual respect, I don’t think we would be facing this,” she said.
Hall said part of the executive session was covered under attorney-client privilege. City Attorney Ronald Newell said on Wednesday that part of the discussion related to protests involved a personnel matter.
Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the New York State Committee on Open Government, said the council members were within their rights to conduct the discussion privately.
“If they were requesting legal advice from their attorney, that conversation is completely exempt from the Open Meetings Law,” she said.
The next demonstration downtown is scheduled for Oct. 5 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and it is being organized by Friends who Support President Trump as a “Second Amendment, Pro-America and Pro-Trump Rally.”
The location is listed on a flier as Centennial Circle, but city officials have been trying to keep people out of the circle, so it may take place adjacent to the circle.