Tower falls oddly quiet

Request for ‘patriotic’ music invites legal hand-wringing

By RICK MORAIN

For The Jefferson Herald

The Greene County board of supervisors on Jan. 21 temporarily suspended the playing of live and recorded music from the Mahanay Bell Tower, except for the quarter-hour time chimes, until policies governing the music are established. 

The supervisors all said they want bell music played, but on the advice of County Attorney Thomas Laehn they agreed to suspend it until they consider a policy to be drafted by Laehn. 

The suspension is expected to last no longer than a month.

A question about bell music arose when a request was made to the Bell Tower Foundation by a representative of the Greene County Democrats for patriotic music to be played following the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20. 

The foundation initially denied the request, but reversed its decision after Laehn advised against the denial.

Laehn pointed out that other music requests from the public had been honored on occasion. The Jan. 20 request asked for five patriotic songs, and Rick Morain played them on the carillon at 12:15 p.m. on Inauguration Day.

Laehn will be drafting a policy for bell tower music similar to the one now in place for visual art on courthouse grounds. 

That policy, adopted a few months ago at Laehn’s suggestion, provides that works of art displayed at the courthouse must be actively solicited by the board of supervisors, with the board defining the message it wants to convey through the art work, and the board affirming that the work conveys the board’s intended message. 

The board, in other words, retains editorial control over art work displayed at the courthouse.

When the art policy was adopted, Laehn explained that without it, the board would have to permit all art if it approved and displayed any art work submitted by someone without a formal solicitation board resolution, because of First Amendment rights. 

That same reason is why Laehn recommended a similar policy for bell tower music.

On other matters at the Jan. 21 meeting, Laehn briefly discussed suggested rules and procedures regarding courthouse security, including access and security cameras, locks, key fobs, hours and other factors.

Supervisor Tom Contner represents the board on the courthouse security committee. Laehn will provide copies of the committee’s final recommendations to the board.

The board meets regularly every Monday and Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the boardroom on the second floor of the courthouse. The Thursday sessions will end after the 2021-22 budget drafting procedure is completed, probably toward the end of February.

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