The West Jefferson Planning Board does not possess the authority to effect town changes by itself. But, in its leading role as a recommendation tool to the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen, what its members suggest are writ large and should be points of serious consideration by the legislative body.
One of those suggestions, which should appear before aldermen Aug. 3, is the adoption of an addition to the town’s Code of Ordinances covering public demonstrations.
A recent Black Lives Matter demonstration in town showed that such events can be orderly and held well within the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
But because one Constitutional right cannot trump another, it’s important that rules and guidelines fair to all are agreed upon and enforced. This is what the code addition in West Jefferson will ensure.
It took the BLM demonstration for the town to realize that such a code was virtually nonexistent — a fact that took even one of the co-founders of the event, Alexis Wray, by surprise when she petitioned the town to hold the event.
The absence of such a code potentially places in jeopardy protestors, those who would protest the protestors and most importantly, the community itself. What has the possibility of becoming a free-for-all, or even violent, display of the First Amendment, can be more easily contained by rules that govern everyone. We urge our aldermen to adopt this code addition at its next meeting.