For now, musicians can continue to play in Chestertown’s Fountain Park during the Farmer’s Market and collect tips—without need for a permit—and until the matter has been reviewed by the town’s attorney and resolved, said Town Manager Bill Ingersoll at Monday’s council Meeting.
Ingersoll was speaking for the Council regarding letters from the ACLU and Rutherford Institute that said the permit ordinance is “offensive” to free speech—guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Council members were unable to speak to the issue on Monday because the matter is under legal review by town’s attorney, Stewart Barroll.
Ingersoll said the permit process was the only reference the town had to go by when musicians inquired to the town about playing in Fountain Park.
The two civil rights organizations were contacted shortly after a heated exchange this summer between Mayor Margo Bailey and a 12-year-old girl who was playing a guitar for tips during the Farmer’s Market.
The Rutherford Institute was successful last year in killing an ordinance in Ocean City that attempted to regulate street performers from passively selling their work on the Boardwalk.
It is likely that Rutherford attorneys will mount a court challenge to any attempt to regulate busking.
“The First Amendment protects busking in public parks like Fountain Park,” said Rutherford Institute Attorney Doug McKusic in an email to the Spy on Thursday. “While the Town may desire to forbid or limit that activity, I do not believe a regulation forbidding the playing of instruments or the passive acceptance of donations could survive a challenge brought under the First Amendment.”
Barroll told the Spy he could not comment on the matter until a full review of the ordinance, and the assertions made by the two organizations, was complete.