Kent City Council Committee sets ordinance at meeting prohibiting mass gatherings of more than 10 starting Nov. 7

KENT, Ohio — The Kent city council committee voted to implement an ordinance to prohibit mass gatherings of more than 10 people during their monthly city council committee meeting Wednesday evening.

The meeting started with a discussion on the Committee of the Whole’s topic about diversity hiring policies and practices, which dominated the discussion for the first half of the meeting. The topic was discussed specifically in relation to the police and education departments, strategizing ways for them to do better.

Headshot of Hope Jones, the Law Director for the city of Kent
Headshot of Hope Jones, the Law Director for the city of Kent. (Courtesy of Hope Jones).

The Health and Public Safety Committee’s topic was up next, regarding the prohibition of mass gatherings. This topic was also a highlight of the evening, dominating the conversation for over half an hour, which was the majority of the second half of the meeting.

“The ordinance basically, on a local level, codifies the Ohio Department of Health order prohibiting more than 10 people from gathering,” Hope Jones, the Law Director for the city of Kent, said.

The city’s administrative staff have had conversations all summer about the Ohio Department of Health order about mass gatherings and what the city’s enforcement authority would look like, Jones said. 

“When students started returning to Kent in August, we saw an uptick in our COVID cases here,” Jones said. “So, we started having a conversation again about trying to keep students safe from themselves.”

After looking at the city of Oxford, where Miami University is located, Jones saw that they had an ordinance in place and decided to revise it to fit the specific needs of the city of Kent. Section 1 of Kent’s ordinance is the adapted portion from Oxford’s ordinance.

“Our police officers already have the authority to break up nuisance parties and things like that, but our health commissioner really wanted us to focus on too many people at parties,” Jones said. “That’s the reason we presented this to the council, to see if they would go along with it, and they did.” 

Exceptions to the 2020-97 prohibition against mass
gatherings ordinance:
– Normal operations at bus stops or hubs, medical
facilities, libraries, shopping malls and centers, or other
spaces where more than 10 persons may be in transit
– Typical office environments
– School and university classes or officially sanctioned
functions
– Factories, warehouses and distribution centers
– Retail, grocery stores, restaurants and bars where
large numbers of people are present, but it is unusual
for them to be within arm’s length of one another
– Athletic and sporting events, including recreational
and club sports
– Members of the media
– Religious gatherings
– Gatherings for the purpose of the expression of
First Amendment-protected speech
– Weddings
– Funerals

During the city council meeting, six of the eight members present voted to pass the ordinance, the other two voting against it. Since the council votes with a two-thirds majority, the ordinance will be implemented. Typically, the motion would go into effect immediately since it was passed by a two-thirds vote, but since one member was absent and the two-thirds majority is based on the whole council, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days, on Nov. 7.

Once the ordinance is in effect, it will provide the health commissioner, Joan Seidel, and her staff with the ability to civilly cite people who do not abide by the rules set forth by the ordinance. The civil citation is not a criminal charge, but will initially be a $500 fine.

“This is just our effort to try to curb both the outbreak of COVID on campus and in our community and to give the health department a civil citation type of penalty to get out there,” Jones said. “Hopefully, she never has to use it, but it gives her a little bit more to help convince people that what they’re doing isn’t safe.”

The Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer mentioned in the city council meeting that if there is a safety issue for Seidel and her staff, the Kent Police Department will be there to provide assistance. However, the civil citation is not an enforceable offense by the police department. The police department does have an unlawful noise ordinance and a nuisance party law that may be declared only if applicable.

If someone thinks that they have been unfairly given the civil penalty, there is an appeal process they can go through to dispute the civil fee.

“What they would do is contact the law department and put in a written appeal,” Jones said. “Then, either myself or my assistant would have a hearing and listen to both sides and decide whether or not the civil fees either stand or not.”

The remainder of the city council committee meeting went smoothly, with the rest of the topics on the agenda being voted on and passed without much debate. The topics discussed can be viewed on their meeting agenda. To view the live recording of the city council’s meeting, click here.