Proposed Centre County ordinance would establish guidelines for protests, public events

“Anonymous” protestors demonstrate in front of the Andrew Curtin statue in front of the Centre County Courthouse in August.
“Anonymous” protestors demonstrate in front of the Andrew Curtin statue in front of the Centre County Courthouse in August. Centre Daily Times, file

The Centre County commissioners Tuesday authorized the advertisement of a proposed ordinance that would establish guidelines for security and public activities and protests on county property.

The proposed ordinance does “a really good job of balancing the opportunity for individuals who are citizens to demonstrate and to make their thoughts heard in a peaceful way but also balances the safety requirements where we have an appreciation and understanding for conflicts,” county Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe said.

It would officially codify the protocols already in place into an ordinance and create the position of chief security officer, which would be the sheriff unless he or she chose not to take on that role, said Betsy Dupuis, county solicitor.

Other places across the state are making similar policies, Dupuis said, adding that “nothing going on here in Centre County is at all unique.”

The proposed ordinance would also re-create the security committee that the county has had on an intermittent basis. It will be co-chaired by the sheriff, as chief of security, and the county administrator, Dupuis said. The committee will serve in an advisory role, with only the Board of Commissioners making final policies.

The proposed ordinance sets up a permitting process by which the county handles demonstrations and events, she said.

Sheriff Bryan Sampsel said it would give protesters on opposing sides separate designated safe places to demonstrate.

It’s also content neutral, Pipe said. The county won’t discriminate based on ideology.

“This is purely just a ‘where do you do it and when do you do it and how do you do it,’ ” he said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to advertise the proposed ordinance, which allows the public an opportunity to give feedback on it. It will be at least two weeks before the commissioners take further action on it.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz