The Niles village board approved an ordinance requiring parades, protests and any kind of public assembly to seek permits, and a security deposit on insurance, for gatherings of more than 50 people at Monday’s board meeting.
When the ordinance was introduced in June, the village got some pushback over First Amendment concerns. Critics said vague wording in the original ordinance about a proposed ban on “indecent shows” could be used to unfairly target LGBTQ-oriented events Niles, similar to bans set in place in Florida.
Village officials made amendments to the ordinance that were approved by the American Civil Liberties Union. The wording “indecent shows” was struck from the new ordinance, and so was a line requiring audiences to be orderly and quiet.
Officials adjusted the timeline to file for a permit and a one-permit-per-12-month limit was lifted as well. Spontaneous assemblies or groups responding within 48 hours to world or local events that could not have been anticipated by a group will not need to file for a permit.
At Monday’s meeting, Trustee Craig Niedermaier had some questions about the ordinance before it came to a vote. He asked the board and Niles Police Chief Luis Tigera, “In a practical matter, if 51 people come, assembled here in City Center Plaza, just outside the Village Hall for a prayer… will that be prohibited?”
Village Attorney Danielle Grcic said that it was a “matter of interpretation” on how the ordinance would be enforced. Trustee Dean Strzelecki said that the new ordinance would mirror ones that are already set in place in other towns.
Tigera said “We conducted our due diligence, we looked at other towns, their ordinances, and then we put this together. We brought it to the board. It was tabled. And then we met up with, through Zoom, with ACLU members. And this is what we all agreed was, was good for us.”
Niedermaier then asked his question directly to Tigera. “So Chief, with that scenario I just gave you… Would that, to your mind, fall under this ordinance as a prohibited activity?”
Tigera responded, “I don’t know if I’d be able to answer that.”
Niedermaier described the ordinance as a “solution looking for a problem.” He added, “I don’t know, I prefer my first amendment tartare.”
Strzelecki, who served as Niles Police chief until his 2014 retirement, defended the ordinance, saying that it is not meant to hinder First Amendment rights and is instead meant as a public safety rule for large crowds. “Once you start getting large, or larger groups, now we worry about not only village property, and illage and other personal properties,” said Strzelecki.
“The ordinance again, we’ve been saying this all along, is not to take anybody’s rights away,” Strzelecki added. “It’s to make sure our departments, our first responders, are prepared.”
Still, Niedermaier said the message it sends could have a “chilling effect” that could make the public believe that Niles officials are giving the police department “more teeth” when the ordinance is meant to consolidate previous Niles crowd ordinances.
Strzelecki said that the ordinance is going to let the police department be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to big events. “I want to tell you that social media has driven some of this stuff, because I work in some environments that social media will draw two sides to an event and [they will] clash and we’re not ready,” he said.
Niedermaier pointed out that the ordinance would only be directed at groups over 50 people and by that logic, the same proactive approach would not be applied to groups smaller than 50. “Like 48 guys can do some damage too,” he quipped.
At the vote, all but trustee Morgan Dubiel voted for the ordinance. Mayor George Alpogianis did not attend the meeting, as he is recovering from a hospitalization, it was announced. Strzelecki was voted in as president pro tempore at the beginning of the meeting.