Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Free speech zones to disappear?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Local Occupy protest were the catalyst for free speech zones.
  • Local Occupy protest were the catalyst for free speech zones.

City Council didn't want to talk about them in private. And for that matter, they may not want to talk about them at all. Ever.

I'm talking about free-speech zones, that strange concept I reported on in late December. At that point free-speech zones, and another concept, panhandling overlay zones, were a well-kept secret being researched by City Attorney Chris Melcher. If voted into law by City Council, both measures would have affected downtown. The free-speech zones are meant to corral protesters into deignated areas. Panhandling overlay zones are meant to silence all panhandlers within a certain area.

My story caused a bit of an uproar, and a lot of copycat stories, as you may have noticed. The story also ticked off the City Council, because it knew very little about the zones. So maybe it wasn't such a big surprise when Council refused to go into a private meeting to discuss the topic Monday. Council wanted the discussion to be public.

Melcher wasn't comfortable with that, so no discussion took place. Council President Scott Hente says he doesn't expect the issue to resurface. After all, only Councilor Tim Leigh has outwardly supported the measure.

“With regard to free-speech [zones] I would be surprised to see it go any farther,” Hente tells me.

The separate but similar issue of a panhandling overlay zone, also reported first by the Indy, may resurface. We'll be looking for it in this month or the next.

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