CENTERVILLE — In light of protests last October outside the homes of two Utah Department of Health officials by critics of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, Centerville officials are mulling a new ordinance to address such demonstrating.
The aim, if officials ultimately move forward, would be to put checks on the sort of protesting that can be done around civil servants’ homes, said Centerville City Councilperson George McEwan, who’s pursuing the change.
“I don’t think people should be subject to protests at their private residences,” McEwan said. As he envisions it, the guidelines, if approved, would stop short of offering extra protections for elected officials.
Protesting hasn’t been an issue in Centerville. Rather, McEwan said the idea is to be proactive, to be prepared should demonstrations pop up in the city. Officials in Lehi, Spanish Fork and Orem approved ordinances targeting picketing in residential neighborhoods in the wake of the October protesting, similar to what Centerville is considering.
“I can’t imagine we’ll take that on at the state level,” Adams, the Senate president, told Centerville leaders.
Likewise, Weiler encouraged Centerville leaders to pursue the issue, if they want, but cautioned against being too restrictive about protests.
“We have to expect that civil disobedience and protests will happen and should be not only tolerated but encouraged,” he said. Weiler foresees more protesting related to COVID-19 mask guidelines and other restrictions as long as the pandemic simmers on.
McEwan expressed agreement about the import of protecting First Amendment rights to protest.
“But I also believe there’s a time and a place, and there’s definitely a place where it steps over to intimidation,” he said.
Guidelines for government protesting against civil servants, in particular, should be more rigorous than for elected leaders, he said
In the protesting last October, demonstrators picketed in the Salt Lake City neighborhood of Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, and outside the Springville home of Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. Both were central in crafting guidelines calling for mask use and more to guard against the spread of COVID-19, the spur behind the protesting by foes who think the measures go to far.
Restrictions in Salt Lake City limited how close the protesters could get to Dunn’s home, but still, she said at the time that the picketing left her uneasy. McEwan said the sort of restrictions he envisions are limits on how close protesters can get to the homes of the targets of their demonstrating, among other things.
The City Council reached consensus to pursue the matter, directing staff to come up with a draft ordinance on the matter that they can consider.
The proposal, or at least some of the preliminary research on the matter, could be the focus of discussion at next Tuesday’s Centerville City Council meeting, said Brant Hanson, the city manager.