On Monday, Feb. 10 the South Kingstown Town Council voted 4-1 in favor of an ambiguous “unruly” ordinance after a discussion that left me with more questions than concrete answers.
I was left wondering why the discussion wasn’t continued to a later date especially after an ACLU attorney raised concerns and the council themselves seemed to have many questions. Why the rush? Have discussions taken place with Narragansett? Our neighboring town has dealt with similar issues. Have URI and our local businesses had a chance to give input? As a lifelong South Kingstown resident and former Town Council member, I would like to trust that proper vetting was done before bringing such an ordinance to the council chambers or to a vote. But in this case, it does not appear to be so.
South Kingstown is a thriving beachside and college community. Our local economy relies on college student’s business patronage and tourism. During the summer months our restaurants benefit from tourists visiting our beautiful beaches and local sights. Without these two groups of people driving our economy many local businesses would not be able to survive the long winters. The new town ordinance has the potential to directly hurt the very citizens it was proposed to protect.
The new town ordinance states that any group of five or more people that gather and are deemed too loud or unruly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. are subject to fines. I would like to know what the definition of “too loud” is? This is subjective and would be at the discretion of whoever is listening. Does this mean if I blast my music while I clean my house I’m OK as long as I don’t have four other family members present? A family of five may be having a game night that is loud and rambunctious and if heard by a neighbor would be subject to this fine. I am afraid this ordinance will directly affect those people that don’t have great relationships with their neighbors.
We seem to be moving towards a much less tolerant society. A society in which we feel we can impose our subjective limits on our neighbors. I say this as a Peace Dale resident that lives next door and across the street from rentals. These neighbors over the years have been a mixed bag. Some have been quiet and kept to themselves while others have carried on throughout the night with parties. Currently I have a neighbor that occasionally will have a fire going in the backyard and invite what seems like dozens of friends and family over to sit by the fire. The fire burns for days, sometimes up to a week and the talking, laughing, yelling goes on around the clock. These gatherings happen in the winter, summer, fall and spring. When I asked my neighbor, I was told it is a Narragansett Indian tradition. When a tribal member dies, a fire is lit and continues to burn until they are buried. This Native American tradition has family and friends gathering around a fire telling stories, laughing, crying or whatever they need to do to honor and remember their loved one. I can only imagine the litigation that would ensue if someone called the police on them!
Our business community deserves our support. Restaurants wait patiently for spring so they can open their decks and patios and expand their businesses to make the much-needed revenue in order to survive. This ordinance will absolutely hurt many of our local establishments and possibly force the closing of some. If a restaurant has more than five people out on a patio or deck or has windows open with people enjoying a fun summer night, they will be vulnerable to this subjective ordinance of what is “too loud” or “too unruly.” If they are then fined, these fines could continue night after night. At what point does the cost become too great?
Since this ordinance is a civil matter, not a criminal matter, and South Kingstown does not have a municipal court, all appeals will go to our town manager Robert Zarnestske. Does this then make him the judge and jury of our community? Since he is on record as saying, “You can’t party like it was 1999 all the time” I have no doubt he and I enjoy different levels of fun.
I own my home, pay my taxes, and live in the United States of America where we have the right to peaceful assembly and the right to party if we so choose. It is not up to Big Brother to tell me when I’m too loud or unruly. If I break the law I expect to be arrested. There are laws that prohibit me from driving on someone else’s property, or urinating on their lawns. These acts and laws that prohibit them have absolutely nothing to do with this new ordinance, yet I’ve heard these two specific scenarios used many times as an argument in favor of this new oppressive proposal. Let’s abide by our laws and until there is an objective measure of what is too loud or unruly not subject our community to subjective ordinances.
I can appreciate the frustration residents may have with neighbors that have large parties and keep them awake at night. If an ordinance is necessary then I would like to see the proper vetting procedures followed. The vagueness of this ordinance and the speed in which it was passed is of great concern to me. This ordinance is subjective and only opens the door to abuse of power. I ask the South Kingstown Town Council to reverse their decision on the recently enacted “unruly” ordinance. An ordinance of this manner must be concise in its language so as to be guarded from exploitation and the subjective determinations of one’s neighbor, police, and Town Manager.