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Nudity issue sparks more city council debate

The Ashland City Council voted to delay its consideration of whether to give final approval to a city-wide nudity ban until Dec. 15 so that the city attorney can research legal language that could help protect freedom of expression.

Councilors who both support the city-wide ban and oppose it joined together on the unanimous vote.

Ashland currently bans the display of genitals downtown and in parks.

After a naked man from Minnesota appeared near Ashland High School and on a popular walking route to Walker Elementary School and Ashland Middle School in October, new debates began about whether to expand the nudity ban.

On Nov. 3, the City Council approved the first reading of a new city-wide ordinance that would have made it illegal for a person to intentionally expose his or her genitals in view of a public place.

The ordinance appeared on the council's agenda on Tuesday night for a possible second reading — the council's last step in adopting an ordinance.

But City Attorney Richard Appicello recommended that the council consider the second reading on Dec. 15.

Language could be added that says the ordinance is not intended to limit free expression, Appicello suggested in a memo to the council.

Ashland has had its share of nude protests, including naked people spelling out the word "Peace" and a "Buns not Bombs" protest staged in opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One way a person who is protesting in the nude could avoid being cited would be to contact the Ashland Police Department in advance about plans for a nude protest, Appicello said at Tuesday's meeting.

Under the proposed city-wide nudity ban, being naked in public would be a low-level crime. A person could not be arrested and taken into custody, but could be cited, he said.

However, if a person disobeyed a police officer's orders to put on clothes, the situation could escalate and the person could be arrested, Appicello said.

Even though all the councilors voted to take the issue up again in December, the topic of nudity sparked an hour-long debate.

Councilor Kate Jackson said Ashland's ban on nudity downtown and in parks does more to protect tourists than families.

"This is about making families feel safe that their children can walk to school safely," she said, advocating for an expanded ban.

But Councilor Carol Voisin said she didn't think that parents' desires to protect children from seeing naked adults should trump freedom of expression.

"Where does it end?" she asked, noting that some parents object to their children reading certain books in school such as "The Scarlet Letter."

A police officer for 15 years, Councilor Greg Lemhouse said he has seen first-hand the impacts on children who have been sexually abused. He said naked adults near schools are invading areas where children feel safe.

Mayor John Stromberg asked the city attorney if the council could adopt an ordinance that would make it illegal to knowingly be naked within a certain distance of children. He said that would give police officers the power to cite people who are intentionally parading around kids.

But Appicello said such an ordinance would be difficult to enforce.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.