PARKERSBURG - Mayor Bob Newell said the city of Parkersburg may look at drafting a new ordinance to deal with panhandling, but a current ordinance is not being enforced.
Newell said while no one is being cited for panhandling by city police, arrests are still being made with some panhandlers who violate the city's other laws.
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court on behalf of Charles Kelly, a disabled veteran who had been cited and fined under city ordinance 347.28. According to the ACLUWV, Kelly had stood in public places carrying a sign that read, "Disabled Veteran, Please Help. God Bless."
Under the city ordinance it is a crime to solicit charitable donations on public sidewalks and pedestrian walkways.
Newell said Kelly was cited under an outdated ordinance which required panhandlers to get a license through a non-existent board of solicitation. That ordinance has since been repealed by Parkersburg City Council.
In October a judge issued a temporary injunction on another city panhandling ordinance. The ACLU claims the ordinance unfairly targets those who panhandle to supplement their incomes and to make ends meet because it specifically outlaws asking for money at specific busy intersections.
"At this point we really don't know what action we are going to take," Newell said Wednesday. "The injunction is against the current ordinance, which means we can't use it pending the outcome of this case. When it comes to any remedy for the current ordinance, we don't know yet."
Newell said likely the city will repeal the current ordinance and approve a new one. The city's attorneys have been asked to research similar anti-panhandling ordinances in other cities, preferably ones which have withstood legal scrutiny.
In the meantime, he said, police will continue to arrest anyone on city streets who violate the city's laws, including panhandlers.
"They wouldn't be cited for panhandling," he said. "They could be cited for obstructing traffic if they step out into traffic, as can the driver of the car if they are holding up traffic to dig into their pockets."
Newell said the majority of arrests stem from the panhandler's actions or state of being.
"If they are disorderly they can be cited for disorderly conduct" such as in cases where a panhandler threatens someone or is yelling or acting in a strange or threatening manner, he said. "They can be cited for public intoxication if they are drinking or on drugs."
Newell said those last issues get to the heart of the city's panhandling problem.
"A lot of these people are not homeless, and that's why I keep urging the public to not give these people money," he said. "They really have no idea how badly that money is being used. Most of the time it's used for alcohol and drugs, and we end up dealing with them later that night.
"People who give them money are not doing these folks or anyone any favors. They are making the problem worse."
Newell said those wishing to help the homeless or those in physical or financial need should do so through the numerous established agencies and charities in the area.
"I would urge them to give money to those agencies that take care of theses folks," he said. "Otherwise it goes into a bottle or into drugs."