Monday, November 1, 2010

Skowhegan faces hurdles for Peace Walk

Skowhegan peace vigil will happen, without permit

Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- A peace vigil Sunday on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge will go on, just as silent vigils have in Skowhegan since 2002.
   This Sunday, however, it might be a little different.
   Selectmen Tuesday night were about to grant a permit to a member of Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice to hold the vigils, when the member stood and abruptly withdrew the request.
   The member, Mark Roman, of Solon, told selectmen that the group and it's sister organization, Code Pink, should not need a permit to quietly meet, display anti-war placards and talk about peace.
   Roman said it was a matter of free speech and free assembly.
   Selectmen Tuesday night granted another permit for a Veterans for Peace march through town on Nov. 4, which Roman also is a part.
   This Sunday, Roman said, the groups will assemble on the bridge, even without a permit.
   "I would rather leave it be and see what happens," Roman said. "I have no intention of pushing any big deal because it hasn't been a big deal for the last eight years. I don't want to antagonize; that's not what we're there for."
   Roman said he has received support from people who normally do not attend the silent vigils. He said more people than the usual 6-8 participants have expressed interest in showing up Sunday to reinforce his call for free speech.
   For Skowhegan Town Manager John Doucette Jr., the matter is not about free speech or free assembly. "It was going to get approved. It's not a violation of the right to assemble, it's giving them the right to assemble," he said.
   Now, without a permit for the Sunday peace vigil, the town is in an awkward position, he said.
   "Nothing is going to happen on Sunday; we're not going out there on Sunday because the bridge issue is being looked at by the town attorney," Doucette said Thursday. "He's got the ordinance; he's looking at the ordinance to ensure that we are within our rights.
   "We are not trying to stop free speech at all. This ordinance was voted on by the people to protect the people who are doing the silent vigil, and it's also to protect all the other residents and taxpayers in the town that want to cross there."
   Doucette said there is a rule on the books and it must be followed if for no other reason that the liability to the town if there was a problem of any kind on the bridge.
   Doucette said the groups meeting on the bridge should have had an annual assembly permit all along, he just didn't know who was holding the vigils. He said once the application for the Veterans for Peace march was submitted, he finally knew who to contact -- Mark Roman.
   "Hospice has to come and get (a permit) for their Christmas lighting, no problem; we required Brian Hale to come in and get one for his hay ride; we required Bart Hughes to get one when he did his walk for cancer," Doucette said. "Because it wasn't done in the past, doesn't make it right now."
   He said if the town attorney, Kenneth Lexier, determines that the vigils for peace need a permit, then the matter will be turned over to Skowhegan Police Chief Michael Emmons. From there, the district attorney will be advised of the situation and asked to support any action taken by police.
   "It states in there that there's a fine," Doucette said. "It's a $200 fine per person per day. This could have been avoided."

Doug Harlow -- 474-9534
Tax Day 2010 on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge, Skowhegan

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