The Albany Common Council continues to ponder a recommendation to City Hall to waive a bill issued to the "Poor People's Campaign" after protesters disrupted downtown traffic.
"We need to make sure that no matter what group comes to our city, that they follow the same procedures and the same protocols." 11th Ward Albany Common Councilor Alfredo Balarin says the panel wants to ensure the city is being fair and consistent in its treatment of groups holding public assemblies and demonstrations.
The Poor People’s Campaign's initial downtown protest on May 21st snarled traffic along the busy Central and Washington Avenue corridor all the way to the Capitol, causing delays and forced rerouting of CDTA buses. In response, the city sent the group a $1,451 bill for "public safety fees."
Attorney Mark Mishler represents The Poor People's Campaign. "We do not need permission from the mayor or the city of Albany to exercise our First Amendment protected rights."
Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan told WAMC the protestors did not secure permits necessary to conduct a march or demonstration. "Clearly, the Poor People's Campaign organizers understand the permit process. They have had the courtesy of registering and getting permits from the state in order for them to assemble on state property. They have not afforded that same courtesy to the city of Albany. They have not applied for permits to block the streets in the city of Albany. If people seek to protest and assemble in the city of Albany, whether it’s in a park or on a street, they have to apply for a permit. And that allows us to plan for traffic safety, for the safety of those who are protesting, and to be able to work out how that's going to happen and what the potential cost of that might be."
In mid-June, Albany Common Councilor Owusu Anane called on the mayor to immediately set the bill aside. Anane, who represents the 10th Ward, says poverty and issues centered around economic injustice impact his Pine Hills constituents on a daily basis, and believes the Poor People's Campaign should be supported. "I introduced a resolution asking the mayor to rescind the fee charged to the Poor People's Campaign. And also asking for support and a stand of solidarity from my council colleagues in support of the Poor People's Campaign and the actions that they've taken, the cause that they've been fighting for, issues that many people in my neighborhood, particularly seniors and minorities, feel that it’s been neglected for far too long. Issues such as affordable houses, issues such as income inequality, issues such as criminal justice reform that needs to be addressed. So, we all on the side of the Poor People's Campaign, and as an elected official, when I was running for office I said I would promise to be a public advocate, and this is exactly what I plan on doing. To make sure that individuals whose concerns have been swept under the rug have a voice in city hall."
Members of the Common Council discussed Anane's resolution during Wednesday night’s Public Safety Committee meeting at city hall. 1st Ward Councilor Dorcey Applyrs chairs that committee, which is grappling with composing a recommendation for city hall. "Is informal coordination acceptable or is it, should it be mandatory that everyone follow the same process of applying for a permit? Those questions were raised by the council member who introduced the legislation, and so what we wanna do is just have an administration member present at our next public safety meeting just to clarify, and I think having that clarification, council members will feel better informed as to whether support this legislation or not."
But, city officials say the council has no authority to waive the fee. "The mayor has the authority to proceed as she would like. This would just be a recommendation, if it were to pass."
The next council meeting is scheduled for July 2nd.