by Brian Carlton

CORNELIUS – With less than a week before the Democratic National Convention hits Charlotte, town officials in Cornelius realized they didn’t have any rules on how to deal with protests. Commissioners addressed that during their Aug. 20 meeting, unanimously voting to adopt a set of ordinances that town attorney Bill Brown and Police Chief Bence Hoyle prepared.

“It’s not intended to regulate speech, it’s intended to regulate conduct,” Brown said. “We don’t have anything that prevents someone from camping out here.”

Under the new ordinance, which went into effect at midnight Aug. 21, camping is prohibited on public property. It’s also unlawful to light a campfire or pitch a tent without a proper permit.

The ordinance also makes it illegal for people to place objects in roadways, sidewalks or other public right-of-way. People also can’t block the entrance to private property or have what are termed as “obstruction devices” in their possession during a protest. Those items include pipes, tubes, handcuffs, chains, padlocks or any type of container, weighted or not.

“(Someone) carrying a pipe in hand in an unruly crowd can provoke or change someone else’s behavior,” Brown said. “It’s a form of crowd control.”

Protestors are also banned from having any type of what the ordinance terms as “noxious substances.” That includes garbage, trash, animal parts or fluids, manure, urine or any other organic waste. No signs, banners or electrical devices can be attached to any public or private property either. That means all bridges, buildings, memorials, overpasses, construction equipment, utility poles or public artwork without permission.

The ordinance also authorizes the town manager, allowing him to decide if an event classifies as an “extraordinary event.” The ordinance describes an extraordinary event as “a large-scale special event of national or international significance and/or an event expected to attract a significant number of people to certain portions of the town that could pose a threat to the public safety, health and welfare.”

Once the town manager declares an extraordinary event, he would have the power to set boundaries on where that gathering could take place and for how long.

Cornelius had a procedure in place for events like a Christmas parade but not larger things like a major political figure holding a speech, Brown said.

“The intent is to essentially prevent riots,” Brown said, adding that Charlotte had to adopt a similar plan after receiving thousands of protest permit applications for the upcoming DNC.

By creating extraordinary events, the town can further restrict what people will be allowed to carry or use. For example, backpacks, duffel bags, satchels or coolers would be examined, as well as any glass container with the possibility of holding flammable liquid. No animals would be allowed in any “extraordinary event,” along with no paint gun, spray paint, liquid paint, hammers, crow bars, pepper spray or mace. Firework are also banned during an extraordinary event.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the measure. Chuck Travis was absent.