Saugatuck Officials Say City Will Not Enforce Public Entertainment Ordinance
The City of Saugatuck has changed its tune regarding street performers following a U.S. District Court lawsuit advanced by two college students of music with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
After a closed session at its Monday meeting, the Saugatuck City Council approved, in a voice vote, the terms of the consent judgement agreeing it will not enforce its public entertainment ordinance against street performers (code 111.25—111.99).
Meanwhile, Douglas City officials are currently exploring ideas to make their policies more friendly towards street musicians and performers, as recently reported by Douglas Mayor Jim Wiley.
For the ACLU, the Saugatuck case is one of a clear violation of the rights of freedom of speech and expression.
“A public sidewalk is a quintessential public forum where protection of First Amendment expression is strongest.
“Criminalizing the act of playing music on a public sidewalk without a permit is a prior restraint on expression that violates the First Amendment,” states the lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, on December 12, 2014.
The ACLU also argued that the city’s “public entertainment ordinance suggests that it applies only to businesses, not street musicians.”
The settlement is a victory—at least for now—for 21-year-old Christopher Waechter, who studies classical music at Hope College in Holland, and 19-year-old Gabriel Novak who studies composition, piano and jazz performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio.
The two fledgling musicians encounter with the local authorities last summer was not so agreeable.
They played independently; Waechter played his viola on the sidewalk near the intersection of Butler and Mason streets, and Novak played acoustic guitar, also at the same intersection.
Novak spent a weekend at the Allegan County Jail (June 28 through 30, 2014) after being arrested for allegedly violating the city’s ordinance for not having a public entertainment license on at least two occasions, as well as allegedly resisting and obstructing a police officer.
Waechter, on the other hand, was not arrested but he was barred from performing on the sidewalk by the police. That occurred on the 4th of July.
Following their executive session Monday night, city officials made no comments, but did provide a prepared statement.
It read, in part: “The City of Saugatuck is committed to protecting the rights of all of its citizens and all who come to our city.
“The city is also committed to protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and visitors. The city will work with its attorneys to develop an ordinance that will accommodate both of these very signifiant concerns.
“The City of Saugatuck prides itself on serving the needs of both our citizens and our many visitors. We will strive to accomplish this through enforcement of rules designed to keep everyone safe while at the same time recognizing the value of our public spaces for appropriate use by all.”