Panhandling ordinance moving

A proposed aggressive panhandling ordinance is on its way to becoming reality.

Codes and Regulations Committee Chairman Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), whose ward includes most of downtown, said the ordinance passed on committee report, read in and laid over on an 11-0 council vote (absent: Jeff Holt (D-11), Joe Sosnowski (R-1), Linda McNeely (D-13), with the final vote next week. He noted the existing Disorderly Conduct ordinance will have its panhandling section removed if the new ordinance passes.

Last week, committee members approved the ordinance by a vote of 4-1, with Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) casting the sole “no” vote.

City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia, who drafted the ordinance, said she was “pleased with the progress it’s made.” She said the ordinance was born from a great deal of public input: “We needed to include all voices in the community. I think the ordinance does that.”

Mark, police and city staff hosted a special meeting in the Public Safety Building Aug. 29 to discuss the ordinance with River District stakeholders and social service agencies.

Mark said the city didn’t have an ordinance that dealt with panhandling that met constitutional muster. Mark also stressed that the legislation took into account that not all panhandlers are homeless. He said it will help the city handle the problem. “I think it’s a good tool that now can be used,” Marla said.

Downtown River District stakeholders have been frustrated for years by how panhandlers harassed their employees and customers. Those bad experiences affected long-term business and tainted many people’s attitude toward the area and its image.

Krypto Music Lounge owner and Downtown Retailers Cooperative (DRC) member Chris Wachowiak said he was confident the ordinance would get through city council. Wachowiak, who wasn’t prepared to give DRC all the credit for helping bring the ordinance to fruition, said, “I think (the Morrissey) administration has more to do with it than we do.” He said current city leaders are more proactive than reactive.

“We’re just proud to be able to witness it,” Wachowiak said.

Fellow DRC member and J.R. Kortman Center for Design and Kortman Gallery owner Jerry Kortman was pleased with the turn of events.

“I’m very happy about that. It’s a long time overdue,” Kortman said.

According to Kortman, the ordinance won’t just focus on the downtown area, but throughout the city. He noted a distinction between the homeless and panhandlers has been made. According to Kortman, the homeless aren’t as aggressive as panhandlers. The DRC, he said, helped bring the issue to the fore.

“All these people are very concerned about what they’ve invested,” Kortman said, speaking of DRC members.

But he said the ordinance primarily came about because “we have political will now that we didn’t seem to have prior to this administration.” Kortman said, though, getting the ordinance passed is only part of the solution. He said the public needs to be educated to say no and walk away.

“If the source dries up, they’ll have to go some place else,” Kortman said.

The Rockford Police Department will launch an education phase for the ordinance and then begin strictly enforcing it. Law enforcement is focusing on people being approached at night in a threatening manner outside public gathering places or as they get into their cars. The proposed ordinance has different parameters and penalties for daytime and nighttime panhandling. Read the entire ordinance in The Rock River Times’ Online Exclusives at

The Rockford Police Department regular and bike patrols’ ongoing efforts addressing begging and loitering issues in the downtown area have been lauded by many business owners.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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