Summit County plans to once again explore rules for panhandlers in townships.
The proposal before the County Council on Monday night is patterned after Fairlawn’s panhandling law that has been on the books for more than a year.
The county last looked at the issue a year ago, but it died after it failed to garner enough support among council members. Registration fees of $10 for a license and a requirement that panhandlers wear safety vests and get job training have been removed from the latest legislation.
County Executive Russ Pry presented the latest proposal to townships first.
Copley Township trustee Helen Humphrys, who is also president of the Townships’ Association of Summit County, said the nine townships met a couple of weeks ago.
“We are on board with the new legislation,” she said. “The townships will not have permits where they actually have to register. We don’t think that’s necessary.
“The ordinance still lets us operate the same way. We do not allow panhandlers in the right of way, the center of the road, they have to stand back nearly 30 feet on either side of the road.”
Humphrys said she knows first hand how almost fender benders can occur when people react and don’t think.
“People actually stop in traffic while they are driving to help people,” she said. “I saw a man ahead of me in the right lane on Cleveland-Massillon Road stop and let his children get out and cross over to pay the guy and get back in the car. He was a good person wanting to help, but I thought ‘You are endangering your children.’ ”
Humphrys said she personally doesn’t think it’s right to panhandle.
“There are better ways to handle this, there are agencies that can help panhandlers such as the Salvation Army,” she said. “We have a Copley outreach center for those in the Copley-Fairlawn school district and help with clothing and food and utility bills. We encourage them to use those programs.”
Some complaints in Bath
Bath Township Police Chief Michael McNeely said it isn’t a huge problem in Bath, and there are only four or five panhandlers out on any given day.
He said some business owners and shoppers do complain.
“We are trying to address issues from all angles. Business owners want to know what is public or private property so we want to make sure panhandlers are in the public space, generally where the utilities run up along the curbing of the road,” he said. “We deem public space as legal, but not in the roadway. Standing, holding a sign is not illegal. Our position has been the person is in the right to stand there and ask for money. We try to respect everybody’s rights, this legislation will perhaps help address the issues that some of our constituents have.”
McNeely said since Fairlawn passed its legislation in April 2012 requiring panhandlers to register with the city, panhandlers have merely moved into Bath. He said shortly after that, Bath made four arrests. One was a theft at a grocery store, and the other three were assaults.
“The assaults have been among the panhandlers themselves, they haven’t assaulted any other citizens other than other panhandlers,” McNeely said. “Our observations have been that they arrived early in the morning and then there were disputes over who was going to stand on what corner and the disputes rose to the level of the assaults.”
Fairlawn law works well
Fairlawn police chief Kenneth Walsh said the panhandler law works very well in his community.
He said when the law passed, officers went out and talked to the panhandlers and gave them a copy of the new set of regulations so they could see what was required of them and what would stop them from getting a permit, such as a felony record. There is no application fee.
After more than a year, Fairlawn police have only had to issue one citation. The city has had five applications for the permit. Three were approved, and two were rejected. One person appealed, but lost his appeal because he left out some of his criminal record.
“We do a thorough check for anyone who applies,” Walsh said. “We went from Dec. 23 of 2012 until June 19 of this year before we saw another panhandler and rarely see any now. Because there is an ordinance in place that restricts panhandling if you don’t meet the requirements for the permit. They just don’t want to take the chance of being cited, that’s my opinion.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.