Organizer Harry Pugliese said Stop the Dump is a non-profit environmental group with the purpose of halting a Souther States LLC project to locate a construction waste landfill on land off of Hodges Mine Road. The dump opponents believe the site is unsuitable for such waste and could pollute underground water sources in addition to creating noise pollution and unsafe traffic on county roads. Pugliese said the group built a parade float to promote that message and encourage people to recycle. After submitting an application form and fee, Stop the Dump was later told they were not allowed into the parade.
Josh Brock, speaking on behalf of the organization committee, said the Exchange Club did not allow any political groups to enter the parade. When any applicant submits the entry form and payment, he receives both items, he said.
“I either deposit the check, or if it’s of this nature wait to discuss [it] with club members and we vote on whether or not to allow them in the parade. ... Every float that is political in nature is voted on,” Brock said.
Pugliese said he later met with Brock and showed him the float so someone from the Exchange Club could make an informed decision. Pugliese added the Stop the Dump coalition offered to tone down their message and go with a recycling-focused message that removed all mention of opposing the Hodges Mine Road dump.
“[We got a] phone call that said that the committee turned it down and said that we could not have a float under any circumstances at all. We were just completely banned from the parade, and the poor lady who made the float, when she found out ... she had already put $2,000 in the float, she said, and T-shirts. We were supposed to give away ballpoint pens,” Pugliese said. “Of course on the pens it said, ‘stop the dump.’ They said no, we couldn’t give them away. But they just turned us down completely even under those circumstances. Even if we just gave candy out they still said no.”
Christmas parade organizer Jennifer Wiggins said the Exchange Club was told that Stop the Dump members would accept any decision the committee made.
“When our two members met with the representatives to view the float, the conversation ended with our member making sure that the representatives from the group would be fine regardless of how the vote was made, shook on it, and said regardless of the vote everything would be fine. The group would be fine with it and so would he. Solely contradictory of their comments on social media, calling [The Daily Tribune News] and calling Josh all day,” she said.
The DTN received a tip Friday the Stop the Dump float had been removed from the parade and an appeal to look into the issue.
Pugliese contends he said he would accept the Exchange Club’s decision on modifications made to the float rather than being removed from the parade.
“We thought we’d try to follow what rules we got from word of mouth from them, and they’ve put the Boy Scouts in there. But our people are really upset about this,” he said. “What happened to freedom of speech? They’re violating our civil rights, our Constitutional rights.”
The application for the 2013 Christmas parade, viewable on the Exchange Club’s website, www.cartersvilleexchange.com, makes no mention of political groups not being allowed to participate in the parade. However, the group does maintain the right “to refuse admittance of any participant and request removal from the property/parade route should they not adhere to the Rules and Standards of Conduct set by the Christmas Parade Committee and the Cartersville Bartow County Exchange Club.”
Genevieve Frazier, the attorney handling Stop the Dump’s suit against Southern States LLC, said she is prepared to file an injunction against the Exchange Club if the group’s float is not allowed in the parade. Frazier informed the Exchange Club of her intentions via a voice mail on Brock’s phone.
“That is a tax exempt environmental group and you violate the First Amendment by telling them that they can’t be in the parade. Quite honestly you shouldn’t have told them they couldn’t put ‘stop the dump’ on the parade because it violates the First Amendment,” Frazier’s message said. “... I am going to court next week and suing each member of the Cartersville-Bartow Exchange [Club] individually and your organization, so I respectfully suggest that someone get some legal advice and I will be glad to talk with your attorney. I don’t think the national club is going to appreciate that you are violating the First Amendment.”
Brock said 25 percent of the Exchange Club is attorneys, including a Bartow County Superior Court judge, and they believe there is no grounds for a lawsuit.
Frazier said she is prepared to file a suit next week and request a hearing for Dec. 11.
“The bottom line is the Cartersville-Bartow Exchange [Club] banned the float and we don’t have any really written [reason] for it to ban the float. There are no rules and regulations we have violated. Our position is that to do so has violated the First Amendment protection. Specifically the United States Supreme Court addressed this very issue in a 1995 case.”
The case is known as Hurley vs. Irish American Gay Lesbian Bisexual Group of Boston.
Brock said four groups total have been denied entry into the parade, while a total of two floats were rejected. He declined to provide names. He also said Stop the Dump’s entry fee was being refunded.