Busker Indicates Support For City In ACLU Legal Battle

OCEAN CITY – During citizen comments on Monday evening, a street performer approached the Mayor and City Council to offer his and others support to the Town of Ocean City in its upcoming case in the U.S. District Court.

On April 10, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit in federal court on behalf of violinist William Hassay, Jr. challenging Ocean City’s noise ordinance, specifically recent changes to it, is an attempt to silence musicians. In the suit filed against the Mayor and Council and acting-Police Chief Michael Colbert, the ACLU alleges the enforcement of the town’s 30-foot noise ordinance on the Boardwalk infringes on Hassay’s, and other performers’ fundamental right under the First Amendment to engage freedom of speech and expression in a public forum.

“I come to you this evening as a spokesman for a group of Boardwalk performers,” Ocean City street performer Milton Dean said. “We want to let you know that we are in support of the city … and backing the noise ordinance. We do not agree with this frivolous lawsuit this one performer has brought against the city and in the end it can only be a detriment to us street performers.”

According to Dean, he and his fellow street performers expect the police to notify them when their act becomes too loud.

“We don’t see where this infringes on our rights whatsoever,” he said. “We want to know how we can help you with this … we are here to add uniqueness to the city. People come here and see us and it adds to the whole experience of being on the Boardwalk in Ocean City alone with the smell of the popcorn and the cotton candy, and it needs to work not only to benefit the city but to benefit us, and we would just like to know what we can do to help. We are behind you.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas thanked Dean for coming forward and speaking up.

“This keeps it even for everybody and everybody gets a chance to be seen without one person dominating,” Pillas said.

Mayor Rick Meehan referred to the noise ordinance as a common sense approach established for all to be successful on the Boardwalk, street performers and merchants alike.

According to City Solicitor Guy Ayres, the hearing is scheduled for June 10 at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“I would like to have some witnesses to testify during that trial on behalf of the city … I would also like to have some shop owners if possible,” Ayres said. Dean agreed to do so.

Last year, the council approved an ordinance setting the acceptable limit on noise in any form on the Boardwalk to 30 feet The ACLU filed suit in federal court challenging what it asserts is an unconstitutional noise ordinance that has been silencing musicians. According to the civil suit, on two separate occasions last June, Hassay was threatened by Ocean City police officers with citations for violations of the noise ordinance while playing his violin. As a result of the alleged coercion, Hassay stopped playing and suffered financially.