When the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce first asked U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal to speak to the organization about health care reform, chamber president Kit Dunlap never expected it would become a public event with hundreds of people in attendance, she said.
"The whole thing has evolved into something we didn’t originally talk about doing," Dunlap said Tuesday.
At 8 this morning, Deal, R-Gainesville, and U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, will speak at the Gainesville Civic Center about President Barack Obama’s proposed health care overhaul. Though the event is free to the public, reservations are required.
Dunlap said the event was originally planned as a meeting for chamber members, but now, the event has been moved from the hospital to the civic center to make room for the approximately 500 people who are expected to attend. And with such a big crowd, Gainesville Police have been tapped for security.
The city’s Police Chief Frank Hooper said the department does not expect any trouble at the discussion like what has been reported at various town hall meetings across the country. Mostly, police will be on-hand to mitigate traffic issues that can arise when 500 people are driving to and from the same event, Hooper said.
But he said the police presence will be "sufficient in case there’s any problems" like those reported across the country.
Event organizers have taken similar precautions at other meetings on the subject.
In Clarkston, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson told his constituents not to be deterred by reports of "town halls gone wild," but the Democrat did not take any chances at his first health care forum.
About 15 police officers, triple the normal security detail, were on duty Monday evening when Johnson held the forum in Clarkston. Guards filtered participants through a metal detector; audience members were warned that shouting would not be allowed; and the 500 in the crowd were told they would get no more than two minutes each to ask a question or make a comment.
"There have been some pretty heated town hall meetings thus far," said Johnson, who represents a suburban Atlanta district. "And I’m looking forward to breaking the mold."
At this morning’s discussion in Gainesville, attendees will be allowed to ask questions but not aloud. Dunlap said the chamber will provide attendees with pencils and notepads with which to write their questions.
Some Republicans have seized on noisy demonstrations that disrupted several meetings and clips of clashes posted to YouTube as a sign of lagging public support for President Barack Obama’s top domestic policy priority. Obama himself held a forum on the issue Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H.
Though there was some booing and cheering from people on both sides, Johnson’s event turned out peaceful. Hooper said he has no reason to believe today’s event, which Dunlap is quick to point out is not a town hall meeting, will turn out any other way.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.