McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 25, 2013

McAlester city council gets tough on "aggressive" panhandling

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — People asking for spare change — or a fist full of dollars — can still panhandle in McAlester.

They just have to be nice about it.

City councilors passed a couple of  ordinances put forth by Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin relating to panhandling and soliciting as city councilors met in regular session Tuesday  night in the council chambers at City Hall.

Mayor Steve Harrison and the city council voted unanimously in favor of both ordinances, with the exception of Ward 4 councilor Robert Karr, who did not attend the meeting.

The first ordinance  prohibits “aggressive begging, panhandling, or solicitation of any person.”

With the second ordinance, city councilors prohibited “pedestrians in or around a public roadway from soliciting a ride, donations, employment or business from the occupant of any vehicle.”

Before city councilors voted on the aggressive panhandling measure, Garvin opened the discussion.

“This has been a concern for the safety of people around McAlester,” Garvin said. “I wanted to address it,” he said, then asked City Attorney Joe Ervin to address the matter.

Ervin said it’s well-established that individuals have a Constitutional right to petition others for assistance. The ordinance doesn’t prohibit people from seeking assistance from fellow citizens, he said.

Referring to what it does address, Ervin said “When a person says ‘no,’ we stop asking. We don’t block them.”

“It will not, or should not affect peaceful and respectful solicitation of funds within the city,” Ervin continued.

Mayor Harrison asked how the ordinance would be enforced.

“It either has to be witnessed by a police officer or a citizen has to make a formal complaint,” Ervin said.

Regarding the second ordinance prohibiting “pedestrians in or around a public roadway from soliciting a ride, donations, employment or business from the occupant of any vehicle,” Ervin said it’s a matter of public safety.

“Does it prohibit anyone from soliciting on a sidewalk? It doesn’t” Ervin said. “It prohibits someone standing on a sidewalk from soliciting from a moving vehicle.”

In response to a question from Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read, Ervin said that yes, that would apply to those who were holding up signs for fund-raising events such as car washes as well, if those holding the signs were too near the roadway.

“It will apply to all forms of solicitation,” Ervin said.

It would not apply to those who have set up stands and solicit funds outside the entrance to Walmart, Ervin said, presenting another example.

“This doesn’t prohibit solicitation of pedestrian traffic,”  “Ervin said. “This only applies to occupants and drivers of moving vehicles.

A lot of solicitations are done outside the doors of Walmart by those raising funds for various projects, he noted.

“But they wait for people to exit their vehicles,” Ervin said.

City councilors declared both items an emergency, meaning they took effect immediately upon passage.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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