After a lengthy debate over limited government and free speech, the Petal Board of Aldermen, in a special-called meeting Thursday, voted unanimously – although with one alderman abstaining – to adopt a targeted picketing law aimed at reducing demonstrations in residential neighborhoods.
Mayor Hal Marx asked the board to adopt the ordinance after protests in the street in front of his home. Marx has been the subject of controversy for several weeks after his social media comments in the wake of the police murder by George Floyd in Minneapolis. The comments were widely viewed as racist and have attracted national attention to the city.
Because the ordinance was approved unanimously, it goes into effect immediately and can carry fines of up to $500 per offense.
If the ordinance had passed with even a single “nay” vote, its implementation would have been delayed by 30 days.
Many residents have demanded Marx’s resignation, and he has refused to do so. Aldermen have also unanimously called for his resignation.
During the meeting, the mayor again said he would not resign.
“There’s no amount of pressure anyone can give me to do that … I can put up with (these protests) for 10 years if they want to do that,” said Marx. “Unfortunately, we have neighbors, elderly people who are very worried and sick by all this. Also, my wife has a right to live somewhere where she isn’t feeling harassed. You’re not going to win what you want out of me by doing it.”
Ward 1 Alderman David Clayton said he voted for the ordinance out of empathy for Marx's neighbors.
“I'm so frustrated with even having to take action on this ... this whole stuff started with lack of empathy,” he said. “My vote tonight is bringing empathy to the neighbors ... with what started with a lack of empathy.”
Ward 3 Alderman Clint Moore abstained from the vote. He said he did so “so as not to derail” the ordinance for the 30-day period and to allow for immediate peace in Marx’s neighborhood.
In an emotional address to the board, Moore said Petal “has got to come together.”
“We’re not going to do that by having these meetings of contention,” he added.