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BOC prohibits picketing on residential streets

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners, in response to what they see as a national trend of raucous and dangerous protesting, passed an ordinance on Tuesday banning picketing on residential streets.

The resolution passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Michael Edmondson being the only commissioner opposed to the ordinance. While meant to address potential safety concerns in an emotional political season, Edmondson believes the ordinance challenges the freedom of assembly.

"A street is a street is a street," said Edmondson. "I understand the disruption [picketing] can cause, but a public street is a public street, and the Bill of Rights is the Bill of Rights."

BOC chairman Eldrin Bell said while locally, there have not been any out-of-hand protests to spur the ordinance, he believes the BOC is thinking ahead in order to protect its citizens.

"A street is a street, but we have seen over the past several years people enter our neighbors and it turn violent," said Bell. "Nationally, I've seen it. This is due diligence getting in front of the issue before it becomes a problem.

"We plan not to violate any state or federal statues in the process, but we do plan to do everything we can to protect our neighborhoods," said Bell.

Also, Edward Bonn, president and CEO of Southern Regional Health System, spoke to the BOC, giving an update on the hospital's effort to have the county issue a $95 million bond for the hospital. While the bond issue was approved by the BOC this spring, Bonn said the hospital would wait until the market stabilizes to move forward.

"We are closely watching the market and looking for a December date," said Bonn. While conceding that "money is tight" around the county, he said there is a "pressing need" for the bond, which would allow the hospital to refinance $40 million of variable debt, $13 million of fixed debt, and provide $33 million of new money for improvements to the hospital.