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Cookeville Postpones Final Panhandling Hearing

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader

The Cookeville City Council postponed the final hearing of its panhandling ordinance at Thursday’s meeting held at the Cookeville Performance Arts Center.

After about 30 people participated in the public hearing prior to voting, the council unanimously decided to move the final hearing to October 15th with no public comment.

The public hearing saw a mix of business owners, long time residents and religious figures speak out. Councilman Eric Walker said he wants to review the community’s comments before casting a vote.

“I for one want to see an ordinance get passed and be correct,” Walker said. “I think many of us on the council do as well. But, we do need to get it right. We have heard everyone’s input and taking some time to evaluate that and go back and make sure we have the correct ordnance for our city.”

Mayor Ricky Shelton said the city is trying to address two issues that have an overlap. Shelton said the purpose of the ordnance is to make Cookeville’s community feel safe.

“The problem that we are discussing here tonight is not always the problem of homelessness, mental health or even poverty as you mentioned and those are definitely issues,” Shelton said. “We are also discussing potential fraud being committed by organized and sometimes aggressive panhandlers that are creating a public safety issue diverting money away from those that are truly in need. Everyone does have rights, however those rights should not infringe upon on somebody elses’s right to feel safe and secure in our city.”

Council Charles Womack said the public comments were useful and showed that the two main concerns with the ordinance are safety and first amendment rights.

Police Chief Randy Evans spoke at the meeting from a law enforcement perspective. He said the ordnance gives an opportunity to interact with the homeless community and help them find help.

Evans said the city has received 169 calls of soliciting, which is a 37 percent increase from last year.

The ordinance prohibits the conducting of commerce including panhandling on right of ways, sidewalks, and streets inside the city limits.



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