JASPER, Tenn. — The Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen was considering making some exceptions for certain groups that wanted to organize roadblock fundraisers in town, but City Attorney Mark Raines said state law forbids that type of activity.
After researching the issue over the past month, Raines said Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-307 outlaws fundraiser roadblocks on "any road."
"I thought it was restricted to state highways, but it's actually any street, highway, or passageway," he said. "[Enforcement] is not even restricted to the Tennessee Highway Patrol."
Area nonprofit groups including the Suck Creek Mountain Volunteer Fire Department have been stopped during such fundraisers recently by the THP, which has led to complaints to local government officials.
"Any police officer can rely on that general statute to come in and disband any of these types of activities," Raines said. "That's the authority the THP is relying on, and that's the orders that they received. They were ordered to stop it from the [state] administration."
That same authority extends to Jasper police officers, too, he said.
Violating the statute is considered a Class C misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of a $50 fine and 30 days in jail.
There is, however, a plausible defense to the "crime" written into the statute for "nonprofit organizations," Raines said.
If a nonprofit group can defend the fundraiser by proving traffic was not disrupted in any way and that it "went through the hoops" to get approval for the fundraiser, then it can be used as a defense in court, he said.
"That is a defense only," Raines said. "That does not mean it is an exception. It doesn't mean that you don't get cited, arrested or charged with it. It doesn't give you permission to do it."
Alderman Steve Looney said the roadblocks pose a danger, especially to the fundraiser's organizers who routinely stand in the middle of busy roadways asking for donations.
"We just need to forget it," he said.
Jasper's ordinance on the matter already prohibits roadblock fundraisers, so no action was needed by the board on Monday.
"Since this law has been brought to the board's attention, and the orders basically come from the governor all the way down, I think it would kind of be a moot point to try to craft or create exceptions that are not going to be in compliance with the state law anyway," Raines said.
Looney said he agreed with the city attorney's recommendation "100 percent," but pointed out that it is still permissible to host fundraising functions on private property near a heavily traveled street "as long as they don't tie up the roadways."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryan firstname.lastname@example.org.