Council moves to revise panhandling ordinance


Halie Hamilton

The Boone Town Council decided to once again revise its proposed regulation on panhandling within the town’s limits.

The council decided the ordinance needed clearer language to protect the rights of buskers.

Mike McKee, professor of economics at Appalachian State, said he would like to see language specifically exempting busking in the ordinance.

“This town is rich with high caliber musical talent, one of the reasons I moved here was because of that, this town has a history of producing world class musicians and the types of people playing on the streets are at large very talented people,” McKee said. “A lot of the young musicians in this town got their start doing that, it taught them how to perform in front of crowds, they developed confidence and they raised money to pay for materials.”

Allison Meade, a town attorney, said the town might be better served by narrowing the definition of panhandling in the ordinance to only gestures and spoken word.

The ordinance would add new restrictions to panhandling, prohibiting panhandling or soliciting within 100 feet of a bank or ATM, 50 feet from businesses and parking meters and 20 feet from public transit.

Renee Boughman, executive chef at F.A.R.M. Cafe, said the ordinance should offer an alternative for the homeless. Suggesting a program where panhandlers would be offered work for a day, with a free lunch from the F.A.R.M. Cafe.

Pastor Tamara Franks of the The High Country United Church of Christ said efforts must be made to find a solution for, rather than criminalizing poverty.

“My question is how much does it cost when we put them in a lock up and can we use the budget from that to create a solution instead of actually budgeting more for a criminal system that actually puts them in a cell and they are losing even more money for that,” Franks said. “I encourage you to notice them as a person, as a human and to really understand what their story is and what is the best solution for them.”

Council member Charlotte Mizelle said panhandlers blocking downtown makes citizens wary of visiting, which hurts businesses.

Jennifer Teague, council member, said the ordinance criminalizes the poor and pushes them out of the public view.

“I am really struggling with the distances from parking meters, distances from ATMs, I feel like those are the things that make this too aggressive,” Teague said. “It is really a constitutional question as to how far you can go, and you really can’t ban panhandling. I believe that the proposed ordinance that we have in front of us is banning it at least in the downtown area.”