The Orange County Board of Commissioners is considering regulating large gatherings and protests in Orange County.
This comes after a September incident when Proud Boys gathered outside Orange High School in Hillsborough to protest mask mandates.
Chairperson Renee Price said during Tuesday's board meeting that several commissioners have been contacted by members of the school board and the general public about large gatherings and protests occurring in or around schools.
The county is allowed to regulate large gatherings, parades, pickets and demonstrations on county property, County Attorney John Roberts said during the meeting. This includes limiting where a protest can occur and the manner in which it occurs.
However, the county has limited authority to restrict gatherings in places that are considered “public forums,” such as sidewalks, parks, public squares and the steps of the courthouse.
Commissioner Jean Hamilton said she is concerned about protesters intimidating bystanders.
“Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean people aren’t harmed, especially children,” Hamilton said. “If we really care about mental health, then we need to think about that.”
Commissioner Earl McKee said he doesn't want a possible ordinance to adversely affect people’s ability to voice their opinions.
“A lot of the social injustice issues that were addressed since I was a child were addressed by people being loud, insistent and even obnoxious because that's what they had to do,” McKee said.
Hamilton also said she does not want to control speech.
“We can have an ordinance that regulates the time and place, requires a permit so our police can know and plan for it, and then allow people to voice their views,” Hamilton said.
Commissioner Jamezetta Bedford said she does not want to eliminate student demonstrations or protests.
“Sometimes students want to have demonstrations, and they are very positive demonstrations for climate actions and other things,” Bedford said.
The discussion over a possible ordinance will continue at a later board work session.
New behavioral health facility update
The board also outlined next steps for the creation of a facility for individuals in mental or behavioral health crisis situations.
In April 2019, 30 community stakeholders from the criminal justice system, health care, housing and the behavioral health system participated in a workshop that determined Orange County was in critical need of a Crisis and Diversion Facility.
The Orange County Behavioral Task Force created a plan for this facility with the goal of creating a space for individuals in behavioral health crises.
The Crisis and Diversion Facility would support diverting these individuals from the criminal justice system and the emergency departments at UNC Hospitals.
In August, the task force plans to identify partners who will be responsible for construction, maintenance and operations of the facility. Then, in December, the task force will select a location for the facility.
The task force hopes to begin construction of the facility in 2023, Tony Marimpietri, the chairperson of the facility project, said.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that 2023 is a definite, but it is certainly a working target,” Marimpietri said.
Hamilton said she supported the construction of the facility.
“Being a mental health professional, I absolutely see the need for a crisis facility in Orange County,” she said.
Marimpietri also said the facility will support children ages 4 to 17, in addition to adults.
Commissioner Anna Richards said she is excited about the facility and the decision to offer services to children.
“As a parent, who was once out in the community searching for these services for her child, I can tell you that it is just heart-wrenching to not be able to find the support that you need,” Richards said.
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