BEXLEY, Ohio (WCMH) — The city of Bexley is working to figure out how to help residents concerned about protests that have been happening outside the home of Dr. Amy Acton. The Director of the Ohio Department of Health is a Bexley resident. People upset with the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic have protested outside her home twice in the past week.
“We’re trying to brainstorm ways we can be more supportive of residents dealing with what is essentially a nuisance in their neighborhood,” said Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler.
He and the city council have been hearing the concerns of neighbors who are worried about the protests happening so close to home.
“It feels different when it’s a public building than it does when it’s a private residence of a un-elected civil servant,” Mayor Kessler said. “I think that’s an important difference.”
On Wednesday night, city council had a special meeting to discuss the issue. First Amendment Law Specialist Professor Dan Kobil of Capital University and Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart joined the meeting remotely.
Chief Rinehart reminded city officials the police department is familiar with protests due to the governor’s mansion in town.
“This has been different for us.,” said Chief Rinehart. “To actually have protesters come into a residential neighborhood and protest on the sidewalk in front of a resident’s home.”
City Attorney Marc Fishel reminded the council how protected the first amendment is, which he said could make it tough for the city to take action. The meeting ended after almost three hours with no official action being taken. Chief Rinehart warned against doing so.
“I don’t see that as a solution in the middle of a protest season where people are going to come back and realize we just changed the rules of the game,” he said.
Neighbors say they’ve heard of additional protests planned. Mayor Kessler says the city will continue to work to make sure the community feels safe.
“We have two different rights. There is a right in America to protest. There’s a right to freedom of speech on public sidewalks and public streets. That right has been upheld in the Supreme Court over generations and it applies even in a residential neighborhood,” he said. “So, that’s a tough thing for us to accept when it feels so personal, when it feels like so much in our neighborhood. So, what we’re talking about is how do we best react to that as a community.”