City administration tested with new ordinance
The apocalypse was predicted for the city of Grand Junction prior to last week’s City Council meeting — real Old Testament stuff, as they say in the movies:
“Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!”
Actually, none of that happened, although it seemed to have been predicted if municipal authorities passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance.
Well, I should point out that dogs and cats are living together and there has been some hysteria, but fairly limited, after the council voted unanimously to institute a panhandling ordinance that addressed aggressive behavior.
Dire consequences and threats of legal action have always been leveled toward any governmental entity that sought to limit the activities of the increasing numbers of whiskered wanderers who have been frequenting a city, and now the county, over the last three or four years.
Neither disastrous outcomes nor successful legal action seems likely in the face of the ordinance approved by council members.
The issue has always been one of free speech, which has been enlarged by many anti-ordinance factions to include fairly bold and disruptive behavior. While conduct can be constituted as speech, in some situations, it is much more difficult to describe in constitutionally protected ways.
Outside of conduct manifesting some form of political expression, which by its nature carries a higher level of constitutional protection, actions of a physical or disruptive nature are usually regarded as fair game for reasonable regulation.
The ordinance that Grand Junction has adopted is modeled on those of other municipalities, which have withstood judicial examination. I have seen a number of these ordinances and have pestered government officials in the past to take a look at them in the hopes that they might impose a bit more civility in the manner that individuals can, rightfully, ask others for financial assistance.
I don’t think it correct or legal to limit a person’s ability to speak on practically any topic, including asking strangers for money. The issue arises in terms of manner.
Intimidating, threatening or following an individual who has refused a request is conduct that can, and should be, regulated.
Interfering with traffic and putting oneself and others at risk by approaching vehicles on roadways does not fall within the realm of protected speech. These are the sorts of things addressed by the new ordinance.
Until Mesa County adopts a similar version as a county ordinance, the nature of illegal behavior will change by crossing 29 Road.
It remains to be seen whether the proper authorities and appointed public officials will zealously enforce the city’s ordinance.
It’s a good test of the city’s leadership.
The city of Grand Junction has just added a new director of public works, and I hope that will engender a thorough examination of the department and readjustment. The present city manager, Rich Englehart, needs to engage in the same exercise.
Englehart’s occupancy of the city manager’s chair is considered to be wobbly by some observers.
The best cure for wobbly tenure is leadership. Now seems a time for leadership and re-examination of department heads’ commitment to this and other policies of the present City Council.
Rick Wagner writes more about politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.