The city needs a panhandling law, 
along with more impressive leaders

I had an interesting dance of vagrant tango the other morning on my way into work on the sidewalks downtown. As is more and more the case, I had to calculate at what point seemingly random staggering by the other party would cross over to my line of travel. It’s challenging but probably sharpens one up for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure how the morning progressed for my uncertain partner, but I guessed it would soon end in a nap.

That encounter wasn’t nearly as interesting as last week, when working late in my office, I was able to overhear some of the increasingly prevalent incoherent shouting and cursing we hear downtown from some of our local vagrants taking in the night air — shirtless, shoeless, clueless and dreadlocked.

It sounded as though the dispute involved something about panhandling, although there were a number of comments directed at some passing women, comments that seemed intended to be complimentary, but I don’t believe were taken as such by the ladies.

This summer promises to have a bumper crop of such folks, with each street corner festooned with them — often now accompanied by gas cans for nonexistent vehicles — seeking just enough fuel to get home, so they can return to the same street corner the following day.

When the city of Grand Junction instituted its Art on the Corner program, I’m pretty sure this isn’t what people had in mind.

You can’t blame these guys, though. Word gets out on where the pickin’s are easy.

There are only three reasons for this increasing migration: the wrong city manager, the wrong City Council and a wrongish chief of police. Two of these have been changed, although so far it’s been hard to tell the difference.

The City Council was only changed in April, yet it has managed to do two things to make itself indistinguishable from the last team. The first action was improperly deciding to continue to exclude certain sales tax from the city’s Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights cap, which may prove to be a problem if anyone sues. The second act was informally agreeing to keep throwing $3 million at the Avalon project, with fewer restrictions than you would put on someone who borrowed your lawnmower.

If this were baseball, the new council would be pretty far behind in the count. However, there are some good people there, and I’m enough of a cockeyed optimist to think they might do the right thing on something.

A panhandling ordinance would be a nice start, and for the love of Pete, the council must not get its legal advice on it from the same people that think the city’s TABOR stance isn’t going to cause trouble.

There is also a new city manager, replacing the last one, who probably was the root cause for the city’s policy of Perestroika (it’s a Gorbachev thing) for the itinerant and work shy.

That new manager is the former Assistant City Manager Rich Englehart. And, yes, I get the mail from folks in Delta where he previously served as city manager, but I still have faith here, as well. He seems like a good guy who’s had some bad luck, and I think he can turn it around.

Police Chief John Camper was not supposed to have even applied for the permanent job when he took over temporarily as an interim from Lakewood. He told that to everyone who would listen. That was one of the reasons he was in the position, so existing officers could apply and not be competing with an interim appointment.

Well, that didn’t last. I’m told former City Manager Laurie Kadrich changed his mind on applying and subsequently hired him. He then seemingly acquired the same approach to the vagrant issue as Kadrich by creating the HOT squad (Homeless Outreach Team).

Interesting idea for social services, and you have to love the name.

Camper seems a quality guy who doesn’t quite fit and might do better — possibly here. Don’t push him out the door quite yet.

In closing, I offer this suggestion: panhandling ordinance, panhandling ordinance, panhandling ordinance.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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