Coun­cil ap­proves pedes­trian re­stric­tions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

ROGERS — Of­fi­cials on Tues­day re­pealed the city’s so­lic­i­ta­tion or­di­nance and re­placed it with one aimed at keep­ing pedes­tri­ans and ve­hi­cles sep­a­rate as a safety is­sue.

The City Coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved the or­di­nance “to reg­u­late dan­ger­ous and un­nec­es­sary ob­struc­tions of traf­fic” at least in part be­cause of a fed­eral court law­suit filed re­cently by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union against Rogers, Fort Smith and Hot Springs seek­ing to over­turn re­stric­tions on pan­han­dling. Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, the cities’ en­force­ment of an­tipan­han­dling or­di­nances un­law­fully re­strict the free speech rights of the First Amend­ment to the U. S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

The new Rogers or­di­nance bars any­one from ap­proach­ing an oc­cu­pied ve­hi­cle if the ve­hi­cle is in op­er­a­tion and on a public street, ac­cord­ing to Jennifer Way­mack, se­nior staff at­tor­ney for the city. The or­di­nance pro­vides ex­cep­tions for per­sons au­tho­rized to do road­work, util­ity work or to di­rect traf­fic; law en­force­ment of­fi­cers act­ing in their ca­pac­ity as law en­force­ment; emer­gency per­son­nel act­ing in their ca­pac­ity as emer­gency per­son­nel, pedes­tri­ans us­ing side­walks and street cross­ings or us­ing the road when no side­walk or trail is avail­able.

“It is an in­her­ently dan­ger­ous sce­nario when pedes­trian traf­fic in­ter­min­gles with ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic,” Way­mack said.

Mayor Greg Hines said the city has pro­vided a draft of the new or­di­nance to the ACLU but he couldn’t say if the city’s ac­tion would af­fect the law­suit. He said the ACLU in­di­cated they wanted an ex­cep­tion in the or­di­nance to specif­i­cally al­low for pan­han­dling.

“That’s just not go­ing to hap­pen,” Hines said.

Hines said the city’s or­di­nance ad­dresses a safety is­sue and doesn’t im­pinge on any­one’s right to free speech.

“It’s a traf­fic or­di­nance,” he said. “It says noth­ing

about your mes­sage, the clothes you’re wear­ing or your ul­ti­mate goal.”

Hines and Way­mack said the or­di­nance cre­ates a civil vi­o­la­tion and Hines said en­force­ment would be through the is­suance of ci­ta­tions. Po­lice Chief Hayes Mi­nor de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the pend­ing law­suit against the city.

Also Tues­day, the coun­cil ap­proved in­creas­ing the city’s ho­tel/mo­tel tax from 2 per­cent to 3 per­cent.

J.R. Shaw is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Visit Rogers, which does the pro­mo­tional work for the city un­der the au­thor­ity of the Ad­ver­tis­ing and Pro­mo­tion Com­mis­sion. Shaw said Rogers has fallen be­hind other area cities and re­gional com­peti­tors in its ad­ver­tis­ing ef­forts. Sev­eral cities in North­west Arkansas have both a ho­tel/mo­tel tax and a restau­rant tax, which boosts their bud­gets.

“The key is com­pe­ti­tion,” Shaw said, say­ing other cities have ho­tel/mo­tel taxes rang­ing from 2 per­cent to 7 per­cent and restau­rant taxes fur­ther in­crease the dis­par­ity.

Hines said the in­crease would boost the bud­get for pro­mot­ing the city from about $850,000 to near $1.2 mil­lion. He said the city has been sup­ple­ment­ing the ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get by about $100,000 a year for the past sev­eral years.

Al­der­man Mark Kruger, who also serves as chair­man of the Ad­ver­tis­ing and Pro­mo­tion Com­mis­sion, said the in­crease will im­prove Rogers abil­ity to com­pete with other cities in at­tract­ing con­ven­tions, sport­ing events and other vis­i­tors.

“We can’t match them dol­lar for dol­lar but we can get in the same ball­park,” Kruger said.

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