[Hpn] Panhandling issue set for vote tonight

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Tue, 05 Dec 2006 05:30:11 -0500


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Tue, Dec. 05, 2006

Panhandling issue set for vote tonight
By Travis Fain
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/16165068.htm
Macon's anti-panhandling ordinance is scheduled for a full City Council =
vote tonight, and the legislation seems to have enough support to pass.

But what the ordinance's final version will look like remains to be =
seen. Council members spent more than an hour Monday discussing =
potential amendments, then agreed to revisit them tonight and sort out =
the final language on a law meant to curb the aggressive begging that =
business owners say drives away customers, particularly downtown.

Downtown business owners have been pushing the council to act, and =
several of them gathered Monday morning for a news conference designed =
to keep the issue front and center. Like council members, several =
business owners said they hope to find a charitable solution to =
downtown's begging problems - one that recognizes the needs of the truly =
homeless and mentally ill but also protects employees and customers from =
con artists and intimidating vagrants.

Several business people called the proposed ordinance, which =
criminalizes aggressive panhandling and outlaws panhandling in certain =
areas such as near automated teller machines, a crucial first step in =
the process.

"Over half of my employees are terrified to cross the street," said =
Charles McCullough, who recently opened Backdrops Fantastic on Poplar =
Street as part of a larger effort to reinvigorate the area.

McCullough and other business people told horror stories during the =
Monday morning news conference, complaining about drunken vagrants using =
city sidewalks as their bathrooms and a handful of beggars that menace =
customers and employees.

"The children's museum will not long survive (without some change)," =
said Tom Glennon, director of the Georgia Children's Museum downtown. =
"Our mothers who bring children into the museum are frightened."

Councilwoman Nancy White, who has spearheaded this latest push to pass a =
long-discussed panhandling ordinance, said she expects her ordinance to =
pass during today's 6 p.m. council meeting at City Hall. A Telegraph =
poll of council members confirmed that the measure appears to have the =
votes it needs.

But even White couldn't predict exactly what the ordinance will look =
like, or how expected changes in the language could affect the vote =
count.

"I think everybody is unanimous that we need to address the problem," =
White said.

As written, the ordinance would make it illegal to beg for money within =
15 feet of ATMs, public bathrooms, pay phones, businesses and several =
other places. "Aggressive" panhandling, such as following someone, =
blocking their path, cursing them or threatening them, would be illegal =
throughout the city. Begging at night would also be illegal citywide, as =
would lying as a panhandling tactic.

Fines, community service and jail time could be meted out, but officers =
would also have discretion to write warnings. Councilwoman Brenda =
Youmas, who is an attorney, expressed concern that the ordinance gave =
officers too much discretion. Others noted that, because the county jail =
is often full and the sheriff is under a court order to keep the =
population down, panhandlers are likely to be released almost as soon as =
they are booked.

If that happens, the cash-strapped city will have to pay the booking =
fee, council members said.

Councilwoman Willette Hill-Chambliss said she wants to see an ordinance =
that addresses con artists who often use signs to beg for money, which =
isn't necessarily covered in the current draft. Councilwoman Elaine =
Lucas said she would like to see an ordinance passed, but implementation =
delayed while the details are worked out.

The discussion led to a list of potential amendments, some or all of =
which will be taken up again tonight. Some of the amendments discussed =
would take simple language changes. Others were tailored more to the =
spirit of the ordinance.

They include:

. The addition of a clear progression from initial warning, to court =
summons, to arrest as the number of offenses increases.

. A clear call for help for the truly homeless and mentally ill.

. A better targeting of con artists who may have a home and a car, but =
beg as if it's a job.

. A delay of implementation to give the police department and sheriff's =
office time to discuss how to enforce the law and how to refer the needy =
to social service groups.

. A new clause making it illegal to give money to a panhandler.

. A new clause regulating the use of signs by panhandlers.

Councilman James Timley, who has opposed the panhandling ordinance, said =
the whole issue needs to be sent back to council committee for further =
discussion.

"That's too much stuff to try to amend (Tuesday)," Timley said. "It's a =
new bill."

Other council members, including Lucas, said it's time to move on this =
legislation, even if it isn't perfect. The council has to show business =
people that panhandling "is a concern," Lucas said.




-------------------------------------------------------------------------=
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To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail tfain@macontel.com.=20


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<DIV>Tue, Dec. 05, 2006
<DIV class=3Darticle_tools>
<DIV class=3Darticle_tools_container><FONT face=3DArial=20
size=3D2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV></DIV>
<DIV class=3Ddivclear></DIV>
<H1>Panhandling issue set for vote tonight</H1>
<H5>By Travis Fain</H5>
<H6>TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER</H6>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><A=20
href=3D"http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/16165068.htm">http://www.macon.com=
/mld/macon/16165068.htm</A></FONT></DIV><!-- begin body-content -->
<P>Macon's anti-panhandling ordinance is scheduled for a full City =
Council vote=20
tonight, and the legislation seems to have enough support to pass.</P>
<P>But what the ordinance's final version will look like remains to be =
seen.=20
Council members spent more than an hour Monday discussing potential =
amendments,=20
then agreed to revisit them tonight and sort out the final language on a =
law=20
meant to curb the aggressive begging that business owners say drives =
away=20
customers, particularly downtown.</P>
<P>Downtown business owners have been pushing the council to act, and =
several of=20
them gathered Monday morning for a news conference designed to keep the =
issue=20
front and center. Like council members, several business owners said =
they hope=20
to find a charitable solution to downtown's begging problems - one that=20
recognizes the needs of the truly homeless and mentally ill but also =
protects=20
employees and customers from con artists and intimidating vagrants.</P>
<P>Several business people called the proposed ordinance, which =
criminalizes=20
aggressive panhandling and outlaws panhandling in certain areas such as =
near=20
automated teller machines, a crucial first step in the process.</P>
<P>"Over half of my employees are terrified to cross the street," said =
Charles=20
McCullough, who recently opened Backdrops Fantastic on Poplar Street as =
part of=20
a larger effort to reinvigorate the area.</P>
<P>McCullough and other business people told horror stories during the =
Monday=20
morning news conference, complaining about drunken vagrants using city =
sidewalks=20
as their bathrooms and a handful of beggars that menace customers and=20
employees.</P>
<P>"The children's museum will not long survive (without some change)," =
said Tom=20
Glennon, director of the Georgia Children's Museum downtown. "Our =
mothers who=20
bring children into the museum are frightened."</P>
<P>Councilwoman Nancy White, who has spearheaded this latest push to =
pass a=20
long-discussed panhandling ordinance, said she expects her ordinance to =
pass=20
during today's 6 p.m. council meeting at City Hall. A Telegraph poll of =
council=20
members confirmed that the measure appears to have the votes it =
needs.</P>
<P>But even White couldn't predict exactly what the ordinance will look =
like, or=20
how expected changes in the language could affect the vote count.</P>
<P>"I think everybody is unanimous that we need to address the problem," =
White=20
said.</P>
<P>As written, the ordinance would make it illegal to beg for money =
within 15=20
feet of ATMs, public bathrooms, pay phones, businesses and several other =
places.=20
"Aggressive" panhandling, such as following someone, blocking their =
path,=20
cursing them or threatening them, would be illegal throughout the city. =
Begging=20
at night would also be illegal citywide, as would lying as a panhandling =

tactic.</P>
<P>Fines, community service and jail time could be meted out, but =
officers would=20
also have discretion to write warnings. Councilwoman Brenda Youmas, who =
is an=20
attorney, expressed concern that the ordinance gave officers too much=20
discretion. Others noted that, because the county jail is often full and =
the=20
sheriff is under a court order to keep the population down, panhandlers =
are=20
likely to be released almost as soon as they are booked.</P>
<P>If that happens, the cash-strapped city will have to pay the booking =
fee,=20
council members said.</P>
<P>Councilwoman Willette Hill-Chambliss said she wants to see an =
ordinance that=20
addresses con artists who often use signs to beg for money, which isn't=20
necessarily covered in the current draft. Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said =
she=20
would like to see an ordinance passed, but implementation delayed while =
the=20
details are worked out.</P>
<P>The discussion led to a list of potential amendments, some or all of =
which=20
will be taken up again tonight. Some of the amendments discussed would =
take=20
simple language changes. Others were tailored more to the spirit of the=20
ordinance.</P>
<P>They include:</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>The addition of a clear =
progression from=20
initial warning, to court summons, to arrest as the number of offenses=20
increases.</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>A clear call for help for the =
truly=20
homeless and mentally ill.</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>A better targeting of con =
artists who may=20
have a home and a car, but beg as if it's a job.</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>A delay of implementation to =
give the=20
police department and sheriff's office time to discuss how to enforce =
the law=20
and how to refer the needy to social service groups.</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>A new clause making it =
illegal to give=20
money to a panhandler.</P>
<P><SPAN class=3Dbox_solid>=95&nbsp;</SPAN>A new clause regulating the =
use of signs=20
by panhandlers.</P>
<P>Councilman James Timley, who has opposed the panhandling ordinance, =
said the=20
whole issue needs to be sent back to council committee for further=20
discussion.</P>
<P>"That's too much stuff to try to amend (Tuesday)," Timley said. "It's =
a new=20
bill."</P>
<P>Other council members, including Lucas, said it's time to move on =
this=20
legislation, even if it isn't perfect. The council has to show business =
people=20
that panhandling "is a concern," Lucas said.<BR><BR></P><!-- end =
body-content --><!-- begin body-end -->
<DIV class=3Dbody-end>
<DIV class=3Dtagline>
<HR class=3Dtagline color=3D#cccccc SIZE=3D1>
<I><SPAN class=3Dtagline>To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail =
<A=20
href=3D"mailto:tfain@macontel.com">tfain@macontel.com</A>.</SPAN></I> =
</DIV></DIV><!-- end body-end --></DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2>
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