By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – The city council held a first reading for an aggressive begging ordinance June 16, to protect those who feel intimated, as well as the First Amendment rights of those soliciting.
City Administrator Dustin Lent said that while begging is protected by the First Amendment, the aim of the revised ordinance is to prevent them from engaging in aggressive behaviors.
“This includes following any individual or stalking them for money, or using aggressive signs or language,” he said.
Lent said he worked closely with Public Safety Director Joseph Marsh and Police Chief Mark Mydlarz to create the proposal for the residents.
Council President John Graziani said the council members would like additional time to study the proposed ordinance revision and ask questions before voting on it.
“We don’t want it too broadly based, for constitutional issues,” he said.
Mayor Joseph Kuspa said the proposed ordinance change was reviewed by the city’s legal team before it was presented to council.
“I certainly want additional eyes on it as much as possible,” he said. “This is a very sensitive item in our community, and we have a lot of community members that want us to be more aggressive, which we are not allowed to do because of constitutional rights, but I think this is a happy medium to try and enforce the issue so they don’t infringe upon the rights of our citizens.”
Kuspa said the work of Marsh and Mydlarz deserves the council’s full support.
Graziani added that it was something they need to do to help keep the city safe.
The proposed revised ordinance would prohibit begging within 20 feet of a bank or automatic teller machine.
It would also prohibit solicitation at an outdoor venue, such as a café, without the permission of the business owner.
False or misleading representation while begging would also be prohibited.
In addition, panhandlers would be prohibited from making physical contact without the solicited person’s consent, and would not be allowed to block the person’s path or a building or vehicle entrance.
Following a person who walks away from a solicitation would also be prohibited, as would the use of abusive language, gestures or signs, or any communication that would make a reasonable person feel fearful or compelled to make a donation.
The Southgate city council will discuss and potentially vote on the ordinance at its next meeting.