The debate was about noise, and noise from the audience- for a time- shut that debate down.
The chambers of Jacksonville’s City Council were cleared Tuesday night after Council President Bill Bishop warned the crowd multiple times that there were no public displays allowed during public comment. That includes applause.
The audience continued to cheer for people who spoke in favor of lifting noise limits at Met Park, Bishop warned twice and, on the second time, plainly told the audience that he would clear the chamber if the disruption continued. It did, so he did.
After about an hour and a half, the crowd was let back in and, while it had thinned, many stayed to make sure they had their say.
The crowd was large because a radio station, X-102.9, held a protest leading up to the meeting to encourage people to speak against any noise ordinance at Met Park. Concert tickets for the upcoming “Welcome to Rockville” were given out to many of the people who came to the protest. Recognizing the large crowd of people, many of who hadn’t come to a council meeting before, Councilwoman Lori Boyer laid out the rules of public comment before the session began, but the warning was not entirely heeded.
The radio station, as well as local vendors, concert promoters, and music fans, came to speak specifically on a few different measures in front of Council Tuesday night. Several residents from the St. Nicholas area came to speak as well.
One bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels, would expand the downtown entertainment district to include Met Park and other venues. That would exempt the venue from the city’s noise ordinance for events, but also lift the open contained law.
As a response to that, Councilwoman Lori Boyer, on behalf of the Met Park ad hoc committee, drafted a bill to exempt the ticketed events at Met Park for this month, while using those as an opportunity to study noise levels in several areas. She tells me she wanted to offer a solution specifically catered to the noise question, without having unintended impacts like the open container law.
The people seeking an exemption at Met Park far outnumbered concerned residents who complained of the noise that travels from the outdoor events. St. Nicholas residents say they are not opposed to concerts, but rather concerts at Met Park, which they say wasn’t designed to be an urban amphitheater. They want to see concerts move to a location on the skirts of town where “they can be as loud as they want”.
When public comment began once again, with all but the upcoming speakers, city employees, and news media watching from a live stream set up in rooms adjacent to the main chamber, the first speaker tried to draw a line between the disruption and the cause. Promoter Danny Wimmer asked the Council to remember the economic benefit that the events bring, rather than the outbursts tonight- which he dissociated himself with.
Council President Bill Bishop told Wimmer he wants “Rockville” and other events to succeed, but that the outbursts absolutely hurt their cause.
Dozens of people have spoken and continue to line up at the microphone.