Forsyth council on Monday, April 5 made panhandling a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days confinement and a $1,000 fine. Council unanimously approved the new ordinance on April 5 but removed parts of it that prohibited “political solicitation.”
City manager Janice Hall said the ordinance was requested by Forsyth Police Chief Eddie Harris and was based on ordinances other cities have.
Harris said Forsyth doesn’t have a problem with panhandling but needs to have an ordinance in place before it has a problem. He said his officers get occasional calls about panhandling. Harris said he had no problem with taking out the section regulating political solicitation.
There was no input from citizens during the public hearing on the ordinance.
“How about Girl Scouts selling cookies at Walmart?” asked council member Julius Stroud. “Does it cut out any charitable donations?”
Harris said the ordinance doesn’t apply to private property like Walmart. Unless a property owner calls police, officers can only enforce the ordinance on streets and public property. City attorney Bobby Melton said the definitions in the ordinance clarify that it is talking about aggressive people who come up to others and cause them to fear for their safety.
The ordinance states its intent is to protect the “rights for all citizens to enjoy safe and convenient travel in public spaces free from intimidating conduct, threats, and harassment that stem from certain types of abusive solicitation.” It is designed to prohibit solicitors in places near automatic teller machines, outside seating areas and public parking lots and to stop solicitation that impedes the flow of pedestrian or vehicle traffic. It is also intended to protect people where they are a captive audience.
Stroud said he agreed with the intent of the ordinance but that he considered the part about council designating up to five days a year when it didn’t apply to political solicitation and up to 10 days a year when it didn’t apply to charitable initiatives to be confusing and burdensome on council. It was agreed to remove these paragraphs from the ordinance.
Council didn’t say when the ordinance will take effect.