Acting on the threat of legal action, the Vandalia City Council on Monday rescinded an ordinance prohibiting panhandling that was put on the books just three months ago.
Mayor Rick Gottman asked the council to rescind the ordinance that states: “No person shall beg or solicit alms within the city limits except when acting as a representative of a recognized charitable organization.”
Explaining his reason for the recommendation, Gottman said that the city had received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union asking that the begging law be rescinded, citing court rulings on the discriminatory nature of such ordinances.
In the letter, Karen Sheley, ACLU senior staff counsel, said, that the city’s ordinance “discriminates on its face on the basis of content and speaker.
“Even if Vandalia’s new solicitation ordinance were somehow deemed to be neutral with regard to content and speaker, it could not satisfy the mid-level judicial scrutiny imposed on neutral speech restrictions in public forms, because the ordinance is not narrowly tailored and it does not leave open ample alternative channels of communication.”
Gottman told alderman that it would be in the city’s best interests to rescind the begging ordinance, so as to avoid legal action initiated by the ACLU.
The council at its June 1 meeting approved the panhandling ordinance, in response to numerous complaints about individuals begging at major intersections, including Randolph Street and Mattes Avenue.
Two weeks later, Alderman Dorothy Crawford asked that the council rescind the ordinance, saying that after thinking about the issue, she felt that it “makes poverty a crime.
“There are people who are genuinely destitute. We should not be making them criminals; we should be telling them were they can go for help,” Crawford said.
In response, Police Chief Jeff Ray said that officers do let individuals know where they can receive assistance.
Crawford’s request to bring the issue up for another vote died when none of the other seven aldermen would support that request.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• Acting on a request from the owners of 6th Street Pub, the council agreed to increase by one the number of Class E liquor licenses and decrease by one the number of Class G licenses.
In a letter to the city, Doug Knebel asked that the business’s license classification be changed from Class G to Class E, in order to allow individuals under the age of 21 to dine at the business.
• The council approved a new contract with Clean Uniform Co. as negotiated by Executive Secretary LaTisha Paslay.
The city is in the second year of a four-year contract, and the new contract locks in lower payments for the remaining two years as well as an additional two years.
The city has been paying the company $319.51 per month, and the new total is $131.14, resulting in a monthly savings of $188.37 and an annual savings of $2,260.44.
• The council approved the transfer of new Vandalia Lake lots No. 313 and 314 from the city to Angie Thompson and Dalton Wehrle, respectively.
• The council approved Gottman’s appointment of Larry Hoffek to the city’s Police Pension Board for a four-year term. Hoffick takes the seat formerly held by Brock Brannon, who chose not to be reappointed.
• The council approved the closure of Gallatin Street downtown for three special events: Harvest Festival, Sept. 26; Vandalia Community High School homecoming parade, Oct. 9; and Olde Tyme Christmas, Nov. 13.
Gottman announced that he would ask CSX Railroad to slow down trains during those special events, and that he also will be asking for a permanent slow-down, similar to what has been granted in other communities.
• The council set Saturday, Oct. 31, as Trick or Treat Night in Vandalia. Trick-or-treating is allowed for children up through sixth-grade age from 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 31.
• The council OK’d a new agreement with Moran Economic Development through which the firm will continue to perform audits on the city’s TIF funds. The city will pay Moran $2,500 for those services.
• The council approved payment of $4,407 to Hach Services for lab equipment.
• The council observed a moment of silence for: Ed Craig, a former street department employee; John Truitt, former owner of The Depot; and Cara Kelly, former Fayette County Health Department administrator.
• Alderman Ken Hubler asked whether having numerous campers and recreational vehicles (occupied by Enbridge pipeline workers) hooked up to sewer clean-outs is allowed by law.
Gottman said that he would check with Illinois Department of Public Health officials on regulations, and he asked Walt Barenfanger to explain what he learned about using land near Kaskaskia Supply and Rental for Enbridge workers.
Barenfanger said it was his understanding that state law limits the number of campers or RV’s to two, and that he had applied for a permit to allow that for his property.