CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper City Council is working on making some changes to the city’s parade ordinance and special events planning guide.
Votes to change the ordinance and guide were tabled indefinitely during council’s Aug. 6 meeting following a motion for Councilman Ken Bates.
Both philosophical and technical questions have arisen in regard to the proposed ordinance and special events planning guide.
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Mayor Charlie Powell and Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson expressed concern that requiring permits for “parades” could potentially be used an an excuse to limit free speech.
That is because the definition of parade includes any march or procession on public property.
That aspect of the parade ordinance is already in place and has so far seen no revisions.
On Tuesday, Johnson said that he thought the government was barred from using insurance requirements as a means to prevent protests. The proposed ordinance requires events to obtain insurance by referencing the special events planning guide.
Councilwoman Khrystyn Lutz asked whether the proposal defined protests separately from parades.
City Attorney John Henley said that it did not.
Councilman Mike Huber said that since the proposed ordinance says that permits “may” depend upon group’s obtaining insurance, since it doesn’t say they must, Johnson’s concern was already taken care of.
Lutz said it might be a good idea to add in such a definition for protests.
“We are not in the business of denying,” Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said.
He added that he has never outright denied an application.
Councilman Steve Freel said on Aug. 6 he had some concern about proposed timelines involved in the issuance of parade permits.
He said that under the proposed rules, the police chief could potentially sit on a permit without formally denying it, effectively preventing a parade from happening.
“The problem is we don’t want people sitting in limbo,” Powell said.
In the version of the parade ordinance council was previously considering, the police chief would have ten days once an application for a parade permit was made to reach a decision.
It didn’t stipulate a time frame the police chief would be required to notify applicants of a permit denial.
Henley has suggested a modification to require the police chief to reach a decision within two business days of receiving the application, and in the case of a permit denial, would have to email the applicant within three business days.
He also suggested modifying the special events planning guide to require low impact event (more than 100 attendees) permit applications be submitted at least 20 days prior to the event.
Medium impact event (more than 300 attendees) permit applications would need to be made 25 days in advance and 30 days in advance for high impact (2,500 attendees) applications.
Henley suggested this would give parade organizers adequate time to appeal permit denials to the city council.
McPheeters said that in most cases, the proposed time changes would give him adequate time to review and respond to permit applications.
Nevertheless, he said allowing the police chief five business days to get back to people would be preferable to ensure that there would be enough time.
Council said they supported amending the proposal in this manner.
Cathey said that if the council listened to this suggestion, they should also require that applications for low impact events be made 23 days prior to their event rather than Henley’s proposed minimum of 20.
Huber suggested adding language in to encourage people to apply for permits ahead of the deadlines to ensure they would have the opportunity to go through an appeals process.
Councilman Bob Hopkins said he thought adding in language to recommend people come in to meet with city staff when applying for a permit would ensure they would have all the information needed.
Councilman Ray Pacheco said that he thought adding in this pre-meeting recommendation may create too much work for city staff.
That would be to ensure they have enough time to go through an appeals process in time for their events.
The appeals process in the proposed parade ordinance would require applicants who have been denied a permit to file for an appeal within three days of receiving a denial.
The city council would then consider the appeal at their next meeting at least three days after the appeal has been received by the city clerk.
Huber said he thought it might make more sense to put the time guidelines in the special events guide rather than in the ordinance.
Councilman Steve Cathey said that doing it that way would allow the council to make modifications to the timeline by resolution rather than by changing the ordinance.
Council said they were okay with amending their proposal to put the timelines in the guide.
Concern has come up that the proposed changes to the parade ordinance would include a requirement that permit applications be filed “pursuant” to the special events planning guide.
The issue here is that the guide is adopted by resolution which can be modified with a vote after only one reading. But the parade ordinance itself requires three readings and votes in order to see changes.
Casper citizen Paul Paad has said he thinks it is inappropriate for council to give itself a means to modify the ordinance by changing the guide via resolution.
“I don’t understand why council believes or whoever believes parades should fall under the event guide,” citizen Pat Sweeney said.
Councilman Steve Cathey said the concerns may be legitimate since future councils could change the special events planning guide by resolution.
The proposed changes grew out of questions about whether the city could rely on the planning guide to require parade organizers to obtain insurance.
During the July 9 work session, Council decided to reimburse the cost of insurance that organizers of a May motorcycle parade were asked to purchase.
The parade ordinance makes no direct reference to requiring organizers obtain insurance, but the special events planning guide does. Making reference to the guide in the ordinance would “streamline” these requirements, Henley has said.