Business Meeting Recap: 5.15.18

Written on 6.1.18

Discussion at Greensboro City Council’s most recent business meeting, on May 15, 2018, was dominated by a single topic: the City’s repeal of its longstanding framework for dealing with both non-aggressive and aggressive panhandling and the Council’s newly adopted (and much more narrow) replacement ordinance, which merely prohibits certain aggressive solicitation.  Here are the highlights of the meeting:

(1)    Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance.  For the second time in nearly as many weeks, the City Council addressed whether it would at all prohibit soliciting money by means of aggressive or harassing behavior.  As noted in my recap of City Council’s April 24 meeting, the Council previously and “unanimously voted to repeal the City’s [long existing] panhandling ordinance because of concerns about whether the ordinance was still lawful given a relatively recent Supreme Court case involving sign regulations.  In a 6-3 vote, Greensboro City Council adopted a much more narrowly tailored ordinance in its place.  Specifically, the Council voted to adopt a ‘aggressive solicitation’ ordinance.  The ordinance prohibits certain aggressive acts during solicitation of all forms, including, but not limited to, panhandling.”  “Under the ordinance, solicitation (including panhandling) is still allowed.  Even solicitation (including panhandling) that may make solicited persons feel uncomfortable (or perhaps even threatened) is still allowed.  Merely certain aggressive (i.e., harassing) solicitation is prohibited.  To not run afoul of the ordinance, all a solicitor must do is not harass the person to whom he or she makes their request.”  “After the vote was complete and the matter was decided, however, a Councilperson who voted in favor of the ordinance called for a revote so she could change her vote.”

At the Council’s May 15 meeting, that Councilperson changed her vote after a majority of the Council voted to allow her to revote on the aggressive solicitation ordinance.  A 5-4 majority of Councilpersons then voted in support of the ordinance’s adoption.  A very diverse collection of community members spoke in support of the ordinance, including small business owners and persons who live in downtown and in east Greensboro.

However, a majority of the Council must vote in the ordinance’s favor yet again at the Council’s June 5 or June 19 meeting in order for the ordinance to take effect because a supermajority of the Council did not vote in favor of the ordinance at the meeting.  Thus, the City currently does not have any ordinance that prohibits the harassing behaviors which are the subject of the ordinance.

One new argument was raised in opposition to the ordinance at the Council’s May 15 meeting – the ordinance should not be adopted because the Council should first solve the root causes of homelessness.  For at least four reasons, however, this new argument lacks merit.

First, the sole substantive issue before the Council is does the ordinance, as actually written, constitute good public policy.  As discussed in my prior blog post on the topic, the answer to that question is clearly “yes.”  Thus, the ordinance should be supported and adopted.

Second, the argument ignores the plain reality that homelessness is a very complex problem not only in Greensboro, but across the nation and the world.  To argue that the City should not allow the public safety protections the ordinance provides to citizens until the City successfully does something no other City in the country (or world) has effectively done (i.e., solved the many root causes of homelessness) is an unrealistic argument which serves no other purpose than to stop the adoption of the ordinance.

Third, under no scenario (before or even after the root causes of homelessness are solved) should the City Council ignore its obligation to protect the safety and welfare of people in the City by allowing them to be harassed and assaulted.

Fourth, prohibiting aggressive solicitation is not a homelessness issue.  The ordinance applies equally to all persons (regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds or life’s circumstances) who might engage in the proscribed harassing behavior for whatever reason.

In opposing a common sense ordinance similar to those in place in practically every large city in the country (including many elsewhere in North Carolina), the opponents of the ordinance are not just voting against the ordinance, they are essentially sanctioning aggressive solicitation.

In essence, I and the other proponents of the ordinance have offered a narrowly tailored solution to the undisputed problem of certain forms of harassment.  Thus, it is more than fair to ask the opponents of the ordinance for their proposed solution.  A failure to offer any such solution suggests the bases of the opposition may be rooted more in politics than logic and policy.

(2)    The Budget and Revoked Incentives.  The City’s Interim City Manager, David Parrish, made another presentation to the Council on his proposed budget.  Under the proposal, the effective property tax rate will not increase.  A copy of the proposed budget can be found here.

The City Council also unanimously revoked nearly $1 million in economic incentives to 6 companies, as the companies declined to accept the incentives or did not meet the requirements for the award of the incentives.

* * * *

My comments at the May 15 Council meeting on the aggressive solicitation ordinance, which were described in a local press report as “passionate,” can be found here (at the 1:48:00 and 2:33:54 marks).  The Council will take up the matter again at its June 5 and/or June 19 meetings.  The Council will vote on the City’s budget at its June 19 meeting.