City Council passes controversial “Unruly Gathering” ordinance unanimously
BY Staff Reporter
On March 11, the Newark City Council passed Bill 19-05, also known as the “Unruly Social Gathering Ordinance.”
The bill aims to reduce incidences of disruptive partying in Newark by creating a civil ordinance in which groups of people drinking underage, publicly urinating, littering, standing on roofs without a permit or committing any other criminal act that “threatens the health, safety, and quiet order of the city,” can be charged with a civil violation for an “unruly social gathering.”
Under the new ordinance, it will be a civil violation for any person or organization to allow, host, suffer or permit an unruly social gathering.
The penalty for a first offense is a $500 fine and 20 hours of community service. A second offense will result in a $1000 fine and 32 hours of community service, while a third will result in a $1,500 fine and 48 hours of community service. A fourth offense will lead to a $2,000 fine and 60 hours of community service.
The public comment portion of the meeting was nearly two hours long, reflecting the intense attention this bill has received from the public.
The ordinance was created to target what Newark residents call “super-parties,” so named because of the large crowds and noise that come with them. The minimum of four or more people was selected because it mimics a successful law of the same purpose in Towson and because Newark defines a riot as being three or more people. The Council rejected community members’ suggestions to increase the minimum number of people engaging in an unruly gathering from four to ten people.
In an additional motion to amend the proposal, councilman Jason Lawhorn, of District 5, argued that qualification 1C, which states,“Alcohol is made readily available to persons under 21 years old,” could result in unfair implications.
Lawhorn believed that a family gathering with “beer sitting on a picnic table” and children nearby could be considered an unruly civil violation if 1C was retained. The Council unanimously passed the ordinance with an amendment that eliminated this qualification.
One of the main discussions of the evening was whether or not Bill 19-05 would unfairly target university students. Several speakers pointed out that while the Council said it did not intend for the bill to target only students, the language of the Council suggested otherwise. On several occasions, Council members referred exclusively to student related anecdotes of intoxication, super-parties and property damage.
The Council further objected to claims that it created this bill to target students, explaining that officers would apply the ordinance to any unruly gathering that called for intervention. Councilman Mark Morehead of District 1 advised concerned students to speak directly with him about their worries with the bill.
“We’re not targeting students,” Morehead said. “This isn’t a student law. I’d like to say to the folks that are concerned about being targeted, we don’t do that. If you feel targeted. Call me.”
John Williams, an assistant coach and self-described gratis legal counselor for the university men’s rowing team, believes the significant fines will simply shift the responsibility towards the student’s parents and have little to no impact on the prevalence of partying on campus.
“The amount of fine doesn’t always change the commerce, it just changes who’s bearing the cost of it, and these kids spend a lot of money to go to school and it’s tough for them to pay $1,000 for fines,” Williams said.
Several university students also spoke at the meeting, including Inter-fraternity President Allan Carlsen. Carlsen noted that while he appreciates the intentions of the proposal, the bill is riddled with unrealistic and vague standards that lend themselves heavily to discretionary power.
“The ordinance sets a low threshold to be met, an assemblage of four or more persons is not a realistic number and I’m for realistic solutions,” Carlsen said. “Vague wording is also pervasively present throughout the bill, and grants discretionary power to the Newark Police Department. I worry whether or not this will lead to a class of people being unfairly targeted.”
University student Kasai Guthrie, 21, a mayoral candidate in the upcoming election, called on the Council to recognize the divide between laws that support residents versus laws that support students.
“Newark Council has consistently made decisions that only favor one demographic here in Newark,” Guthrie said.
Meghan Mullennix, a representative for the Student Government Association, echoed Guthrie, explaining that students are often ostracized from the Newark community.
“I’ve noticed the words ‘transients’ and ‘our population’ often refer to students, whereas ‘resident,’ ‘community member’ and ‘stakeholder’ commonly are understood to exclude the student body,” Mullennix said. “I’d like some inclusion in the conversation when that may necessitate an invitation.”
Students at the university quickly rallied against the ordinance on Monday night, with one student, Charlie Hess, creating a petition titled, “ Ordinance 19-05 Will Ruin Our School, We Must Fight Back.” As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition has garnered over 12,300 signatures.
The Petition Statement argues that this ordinance will cause a drop in enrollment as students search elsewhere for the fun-filled college experience they were promised.
“By passing this new Bill, it will persuade applicant students to go elsewhere; to a school that they can have fun and be themselves without having to worry about getting a large fine or have something on their record for being a typical college student,” Hess stated.
Residents of Newark, like Ron Walker, who support the bill hope it will increase the quality of living to the city. Walker expressed that his struggle with Newark’s party scene has grown continually worse.
“I’ve watched progressively deteriorating conditions between university students and quality of life that I think is reasonable to expect in my residents,” Walker said. “I pray to God that you will approve it, because Old Newark definitely needs this ordinance.”