G-8 Demonstrators Threaten Lawsuit Over City Ordinances

One Savannah group says, if they can't get approval from the city for their rallies during the G-8 summit, they'll take their fight to court. The Savannah June 8th Organizing Committee is planning several free-speech rallies, but they say the city has modified its ordinances just because of them. Now, they're threatening to involve the ACLU.

Committee chairwoman Kellie Gasink told us, "I think it's ridiculous for the city to waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars litigating in a lawsuit it can't possibly win."

Gasink and the Savannah June 8th Organizing Committee are threatening to take the City of Savannah to court. They plan to hold a festival at Forsyth Park and a parade through Savannah as part of their activities during the upcoming G-8 summit on Sea Island. But Gasink is troubled that the city wants to know what's going on before their gathering is approved.

A recently amended public safety ordinance states it shall be unlawful to engage or conduct any parade or public assembly without first receiving a permit from the city manager. For that to be done, the plan must include things like the number of people, the date of the event, the hours it'll be conducted, any audio/visual equipment they'll be using, the group's safety needs and their plans for safety and sanitation.

"My problem with the ordinance is that it's premise is free speech is a burden on the city, and that premise is ridiculous," said Gasink.

Gasink expects the parade and the festival at Forsyth Park to each draw about 5,000 people. She says it will give protesters an outlet, but Savannah city officials say the ordinances are on the books for a reason. For one, to make sure city property is protected. "All we're trying to do is make sure, if you bring a group in and you go into a public space, that we won't end up with damaged monuments, benches and bushes and no one is going to make it a mess," said Michael Brown, Savannah city manager. "That's what these are for."

Gasink's group has met with the city several times, but now she says unless the city modifies or throws out the ordinances by April 23, they'll involve the ACLU and face hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com