BOC considers new gun ordinance for parks, facilities

Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

November 7, 2013

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners Monday considered a new ordinance restricting concealed firearms at public parks and recreation facilities, and voted down a proposal for a Motocross event in Ashe County Park.

County Attorney John Kilby said changes to N.C. gun laws passed by the General Assembly this year had further eased restrictions on where concealed weapons can be carried, and “pretty much undid” the county’s existing ordinance.

In February 2012, after two months of discussion, the commissioners voted 3-2 to regulate concealed weapons at county recreation facilities including Beaver Creek Industrial Park practice fields, Family Central’s gym and ball field, and Ashe County Park during organized county events. Commissioners Gerald Price and Gary Roark opposed the motion.

The county ordinance was written in response to legislation passed by the GA in 2011, allowing concealed carry of handguns in parks by permit holders, but also allowing county and municipal authorities to regulate firearms in certain recreational areas.

New gun statutes will require a new ordinance, Kilby said, adding that new park signage would also be needed.

The board’s authority to restrict open and concealed carry of guns at public parks and recreational facilities is “not absolutely, crystal clear,” he said.

The board can regulate firearms on athletic fields — including “appurtenant facilities” such a bleachers, rest rooms, concession areas, etc. — during an organized event where the field has been scheduled for use through Parks and Recreation, he said.

But, in a statutory “gray area,” firearms can also be regulated at “a facility used for athletic events, including but not limited to a gymnasium, without any restriction as to scheduled events,” Kilby said. An athletic field could be construed as “facility,” he said.

“You can’t regulate the greenways or bike paths,” he said.

Open carry of firearms can be restricted throughout an entire park or facility, and shooting can be prohibited, exception for “legitimate defensive purposes” and “bird hunting,” he said.

“It’s a hodge podge, and there’s no telling where the thing might end up, but you do have some authority to regulate if you choose to do so,” Kilby told the board, advising “a carefully worded ordinance and carefully worded signage.”

Rhodes said he was having difficulty imagining how big the signage would have to be to say all that.

Director of Parks and Recreation Scott Turnmyre said kiosks could be installed to post temporary signage for specific scheduled events.

“What if we did nothing?” Sands asked.

“Wild West, I guess,” Kilby said.

Motocross proposal nixed

A proposal for a Motocross race utilizing part of Ashe County Park was voted down 4-1, with Price dissenting.

In September, Turnmyre presented the board with the proposal from GNCC (Grand National Cross Country) Racing, a West Virginia-based motocross series. Representatives from GNCC had shown interest in building an eight-mile race track adjacent to, and partially inside of, Ashe County Park.

Turnmyre said Monday the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board had issued a statement concerning the proposal, saying that “(the PRAB) likes the idea of a Motocross track, and its potential financial incentives to the county, but do not want it to be located at Ashe County Park.”

The advisory board suggested finding another location for the track, and urged the board to keep all ordinances protecting the park in place.

Turnmyre said GNCC had been waiting on the commissioners to move on the proposal, and had not talked to anybody about acquiring property adjoining the park.

Price favored pursuing the proposal, arguing the economic boon of an annual Motocross event would outweigh any negatives.

Roark said, “you give a little piece of the park here, and a little piece there, pretty soon you don’t have a park.”

Arts Council eyes Fiddlers Convention

“The Arts Council is doing a feasibility study to see if we can continue the tradition that was established by the Rotary Club of the Ashe County Fiddlers Convention,” said Michael Bell of Originals Only Gallery.

The Rotary announced this summer that the 44th Fiddlers Convention, held Aug. 3-4 in Ashe Park, would be the last unless another organization took over organizing the annual event.

“We’ve been studying to see if maybe we can make it work or not,” Bell said.

“In order to do that, we would need the commissioners permission to use Ashe County Park for the event. We’d need to be able to charge admission for the event, and…have control over entry for that weekend,” he said.

Turnmyre said, “We would be delighted to work with the Arts Council.”

“We think there’s an economic impact for the county through tourism and accommodations. We think support of traditional music and musicians is important. It just seems like it’s the right thing to do,” Bell said.

Poe said she thought organizations using the park should have to pay the county for services such as septic pumping, clean-up, etc., which have to be done after events are held there.

Bell emphasized that the Arts Council has made no decision about whether to take over the convention, but added, “we certainly have the organizational abilities.”

Other business

Richard Williams was appointed as the Local Fireman’s Relief Fund Board member for Lansing Voluteer Fire Department.

Board recommendations for the Smoky Mountain LME/MCO were unanimously approved by the board.

The board approved a proclamation recognizing Anglea Reagan, Ashe’s outgoing Veterans Service Officer, for her work with the county’s former soldiers and sailors. A presentation will be made to Reagan at the board’s next regular meeting Nov. 18.

The board approved a proclamation in honor of Veterans Day, which read, “Whereas, since the establishment of the original 13 states, Americans have been willing to fight and die to preserve their individual rights as guaranteed in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights…therefore, we, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, do hereby urge all citizens to honor our veterans, and call upon all veterans to wear their medals in observance of Veterans Day so that all will have the opportunity to express their appreciation for their service.