Durham city officials to rewrite soliciting rules

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 03:28 PM

City officials appear likely to rewrite Durham’s rules for roadside begging, to prohibit solicitation from the medians of major roads and to compel solicitors to stick to the sidewalk.

The City Council has scheduled a vote on the proposal for Dec. 17. They placed it on the meeting’s consent agenda, meaning they expect it to pass without controversy.

Officials concede that the move follows years of complaints from residents.

City Manager Tom Bonfield and city lawyers in recent weeks hammered out the proposal in behind-the-scenes discussions with elected officials.

“This is a compromise because if I had my druthers, I’d prefer we take the same approach as Chapel Hill, to have no solicitation in the roadways,” Councilman Eugene Brown said, adding he “will certainly support” the staff proposal.

The city has regulated begging since 2004, when it passed an ordinance requiring would-be solicitors to register and wear safety vests.

Bonfield proposes dropping the $20 registration requirement, as it’s difficult to enforce. Eliminating it will cost the city about $2,000 a year in fee revenue.

The ordinance will apply to all forms of roadside solicitation, including newspaper sales and charity fundraisers.

Under the First Amendment, “we can’t pick and choose which ones” to allow, City Attorney Patrick Baker said.

Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden sought assurances Thursday that the city will continue to ask solicitors to clean up after themselves. The present ordinance bans littering and requires solicitors to take their belongings with them whenever they move more than 50 feet.

The revised ordinance retains those provisions. “Enforcing [them] remains a different matter,” said Richard Weintraub, a senior assistant city attorney.