Center Street party

More than 25 people party in the backyard of a rental home on Center Street earlier this month, with no masks or social distancing evident.

The City of Newark on Monday strengthened its social gathering law to match the more restrictive guidelines issued by Gov. John Carney.

When passed in late August, the city’s law restricted indoor gatherings to no more than 12 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 20. At the time, it was much stricter than the state’s law.

However, Carney’s latest order – which took effect Monday – reduced the cap on indoor gatherings to 10.

City council unanimously voted to match that 10-person limit and also removed the exemption for people under the age of 16.

Newark’s outdoor limit will remain at 20. People can still apply to the city for a free permit to have larger gatherings, but only for a maximum of 50 people. Anything larger requires a permit from the Delaware Division of Public Health.

While Carney’s order supersedes the city’s ordinance, it was important to amend the city’s code for consistency, Mayor Jerry Clifton said.

“We need to be in alignment with the state to eliminate any confusion over what the state says and what Newark government is saying,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said.

The ordinance also empowers the Newark Police Department to enforce the lower limit and fine violators under the penalties established in August.

If convicted, violators will be fined $100 to $500 and be ordered to complete up to 20 hours of community service. For a second offense, the penalty increases to $500 to $1,000 and up to 32 hours of community service.

The penalties are civil citations, meaning they won’t appear on the person’s criminal record. However, anyone accused of violating the ordinance a third time will be charged criminally and face a fine of up to $1,500.

Monday’s vote by city council came as an emergency ordinance, which can be voted on without the usual public notice requirements. The vote was not listed on the agenda nor was it announced prior to the meeting.

It will stay in effect for 60 days, unless codified through the standard process. Once it expires, the city’s law will revert to the 12-person limit.

City Manager Tom Coleman said the new guidelines will have an immediate effect on the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, which received a permit to hold outdoor Shabbat dinners after its building was torched by an arsonist earlier this year.

“We’ll need to get their plan approved by DPH, and then their gathering will be capped at 250,” Coleman said.

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