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Cookeville Council To Consider Panhandling Ordinance

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader

Cookeville City Council will vote Thursday on a new ordinance to better control panhandling in the community.

The ordinance would prohibit business and individuals conducting commerce on sidewalks. That includes panhandling and selling. The ordinance focuses on the obstruction or blocking of sidewalks and right-of-ways. Police could cite an individual but could not arrest anyone.

“This is an attempt to have something within our code that would help us to address the panhandling situation that seems to have exploded here in the city over the past couple of months,” City Manager James Mills said.

The ordinance is based on the Brentwood ordinance which has slowed panhandling in that community, according to City Attorney Daniel Rader. The Brentwood ordinance has been challenged in the courts and the courts upheld the regulation.

“This gives the police the authority to be there for sure,” Rader said. “Their presence will do more than anything to put an end to this.”

Police have stepped up patrols in the areas where panhandlers have congregated in recent weeks.

“I think that’s helped some,” Mills said.

Mills said some of the biggest concerns are traffic and the safety of the individuals standing alongside the road. Council Member Mark Miller said he was concerned about police officers trying to move people without that authority.

“My worry is we get sued because we overstep our boundaries,” Miller said.

Mills said he suggested placing signs in areas noting the ordinance to discourage panhandlers. He said signage would also discourage citizens from giving money to individuals.

In addition to the ordinance, Mills said the city wants to be aggressive in finding assistance for the individuals who truly need help. He said that could be though social workers, assistance from UCHRA or the Cookeville Rescue Mission.

“It’s a multi-pronged kind of effort,” Mills said.

The ordinance includes exemptions for 501 C-3 non-profits. In addition, the city could close streets and allow commerce for something such as a festival.

If passed, the ordinance would prohibit local businesses employing individuals to alert drivers. This includes individuals walking with signs or in outfits on sidewalks or right-of-ways. Mills noted that an individual could simply step back several steps on to private property and continue with signs.

Cookeville City Council will consider the ordinance Thursday night.


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