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Street preacher irks downtown shop owners, residents

COVINGTON -- A street preacher is aggravating residents and business owners in downtown Covington.

Fleeta Baggett, who lives in The Lofts on the Square, complained to the Covington City Council at its March 19 meeting that the preacher, identified as Mathew Edwards, has been loudly screaming and is confrontational with anyone who approaches him. Baggett said he typically stands on the corner of College and Church streets between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and usually has a small group of people with him, including children who drag crosses with phrases on them such as, "Are you ready to meet your maker?"

"You can't talk to him in a normal tone. If you try to talk to him about what he's doing, he starts screaming at you," Baggett said. "I cannot hear anything in my loft with three TVs on with that man screaming. It's almost like an assault, it's so loud."

Baggett said she has witnessed visitors to the Square and customers of businesses downtown leave due to the man's aggressiveness. She said sales at Scoops, the ice cream shop on the corner, are down, but when asked to comment, Scoops owner Sue Kirk said she can't verify that the preacher has impacted sales or created a problem for the store. Kirk said she spends Saturdays at her other business and has not personally witnessed his behavior.

But Susan Thompson, owner of Merle Norman, said she can hear the preacher's screaming inside her shop.

"He's very loud. I'm not sure how many people turn away from that. My approach is don't bother me and I won't bother you, but if he's turning people away from downtown, he should have to rent a space like me to peddle whatever it is, whether it's his word or his product. He is loud; he is not talking to his congregation, he's screaming for everyone to hear," she said.

Thompson said she has not seen Edwards being aggressive and she could not say whether she has lost business due to his presence.

An employee at Amici Italian Cafe said while the preacher hasn't impacted business, "It definitely kind of takes away from the downtown because it is kind of abrasive."

However Jessa Bank, assistant manager at the coffee shop Square Perk, said her store has not had any problems.

"It's been fine. Nobody's irritated," she said.

Baggett said Edwards also leaves cards on citizens' cars and "if you hold it down, it tells you if you're a good person."

Baggett said she has been advised to call police if he steps into the street, which he sometimes does in response to hecklers, but she said by the time police could get there, he would have stepped back onto the sidewalk.

"I don't want to be that woman on the corner who calls police all the time because I want them to come when I need them," she said.

Police Chief Stacey Cotton said Edwards has been obtaining a public assembly permit for about six months. He first began preaching on the courthouse steps but then moved to the intersection of College and Church streets. Cotton said he would talk with Edwards about his bothersome behavior when he applies for the next permit.

A gathering of eight or more people triggers the requirement for a permit.

City Attorney Ed Crudup said that while the preacher is exercising his right to free speech, "whether his free speech is so extreme that it amounts to terroristic acts or threats or a public nuisance could ultimately be determined by a court, based on the facts."

A citizen could file a nuisance complaint to be heard in Municipal Court, Crudup added.

Officials indicated they would like the matter addressed quickly, given that it's the season for high school proms, and students often go the Square to take pictures prior to the prom.

Baggett also addressed the counsel regarding a proposal to put LED lights in lampposts and twinkling lights in trees around the Square. During her nine years living in The Lofts, Baggett said she has witnessed drug use, nudity, drunks, people setting off burglar alarms and loiterers on the Square after hours.

Baggett asked that the shades blocking the glare from the street lights be retained when the LED lights are installed and that the tree lights be put on a timer.

"I don't think we need to encourage people to stay on the Square all night long," Baggett said.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the lights were requested by the Downtown Business Council, but added that a decision about whether to install them has not been made.

Baggett is the sister of Councilman Chris Smith.

Comments

phone 2 years ago

It's interesting to see how Ms. Baggett is now complaining about the lighting on the square. When she moved in 9 years ago , those same lights were there and she raved in local news articles how great it was to be there. I see she has now changed her mind and would like to use taxpayer money to fix her nuisance.

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Silverbullet 2 years ago

If you dont like the hubbub of the town square, move! Freedom of speech and peaceable assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. If you dont like the US Constitution, move. If I lived there I would also complain about the music noise and other assemblies. 'Selective' assembly is not a reasonable interpretation of our laws. Covington was a nice, quiet, wonderful place to live until the County Commissioners opened the gates for the developers and land barons to get rich and brought in the traffic, crime, drugs, and all the other negative elements we now face. Great leadership here mostly by people who have never been past the city limits sign. Native American people would not make a decision on an issue until they duly considered the effect on their people seven generations ahead. Why shouldnt we do the same? "Savages" we called them. And, dont let anyone ever forget, it is the people of the entire County who own the square, not the City of Covington.

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averagejoe 2 years ago

Reading the headline the paper makes it sound like this guy has everyone in an uproar,but I read the article and the only thing the shop owners say is he is loud.I'd say he probably gets excited, as do most preachers, about the message he is delivering.Plus it is outdoors,and it wouldnt do much to stand and talk in a monotone voice if you want to get the attention of the public. It really shows just where we stand as a society when it comes to God.This man I'm sure is just reaching out and trying to do that which we Christians are commissioned to do, and that is to reach the lostI. If a preacher doesnt suit your taste surely he is not wrong just because you dont like it.Maybe instead of smearing this mans name in the paper, we all went and listened, and I mean listened to message,I bet you will find that Mr. Edwards is just as normal as you and me.One last note... lets be careful of what we disrupt,I would hate to know that I got in the way of the Lords work,I don't want to be there on judgement day and know I might have hindered someone fron hearing the word of God.

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KimberlyD 2 years ago

She shouldn't be encouraged to move from her home because of this. I've encountered her in the past and she's a nice peaceful woman. Yes, the square is for the entire county to use BUT she lives there and people choose to do business on the square should not have to hear that. Saturday is a busy shopping day. As a child of God, I don't understand why people want to "scare" people into going to church. People will find their way to God...some way some how.

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John 2 years ago

If this person is indeed speaking (preaching) in a loud voice in a public area that is for everyone to enjoy, he is in deed a nuisance and should not be allowed to do so. Much like a student in class that continually disrupts by talking out of turn - they need to be removed too!. If Mr. Edwards is truly driven wishes to spread the word, he should get a permit, tent, some chairs, a hat to pass & do like that song that Neil Diamond sang "Brother Loves Salvation Show"

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UGAFan 2 years ago

Wrong....He has followed the letter of the law and gets permits.

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John 2 years ago

So if I get a permit for my dog to bark (the only speech she knows) during day light hours, it is OK?

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skatergurl 2 years ago

But if he does step off the sidewalk he is not following the letter of the law.

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Satan69 2 years ago

There is nothing wrong with preaching but there is a way to not be so distracting about it. The man has a right to walk up and down the street talking about God all day, however no need to scream and holler. I don't think the guys should be known as a holy roller or whatever but maybe tone it down a little just so people don't get the wrong idea. Some may say he is nuts walking up and down the street doing that but maybe he is the type that maybe he gets attention only by doing that sort of thing. That's not bad but it can make it very nerve racking and sometimes some people don't like to hear the word of God 24/7 but that doesn't make them bad people either.

I don't see where it makes us right or wrong just because we don't want to hear preaching 24 hrs a day and it doesn't make us devils either. Some times to much is enough and I think personally he just needs to tone it down just a bit, other then that let the man talk it's freedom of speech isn't it?

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Satan69 2 years ago

Maybe this guy would make a good BOE chair.

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UGAFan 2 years ago

Everyone should pay attention to Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow..... There is ALWAYS the outcast standing on the street corner holding the sign and is preaching the end is coming....It is Americana!!!

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