BANGOR, Maine — City councilors on Monday agreed to schedule an up-or-down vote for Dec. 13 on a proposal to create residency restrictions on certain sex offenders.
Judging by the comments expressed by councilors, the proposal to create 750-foot buffers around schools, parks and other public places is likely to be defeated next month.
Police Chief Ron Gastia and Shawn Yardley, health and community services director, both testified before the council that the suggested residency restrictions would not achieve their intended goal of protecting children.
Gastia said the ordinance creates a false sense of security for parents and added that the community at large needs to be more concerned about the sex offenders they don’t know rather than the ones who already are monitored.
“My opinion is that there needs to be more work done at the state level to categorize offenders before we start talking residency restrictions,” he said.
Yardley, who has years of experience working in child welfare, agreed that parental education, not government regulations, should be Bangor’s focus. He said research shows that restrictions often force offenders under the radar.
“The offenders we’re all worried about — true pedophiles — this ordinance does nothing to target them. They would be the mostly likely to go underground,” he said.
Erica Veazey, who works in legal services in the Bangor area, and Angel Shaw of Rape Response Services both spoke Monday about the ordinance. Veazey said restrictions isolate offenders from services that could help them. Shaw said her organization did not have a strong stance but challenged the city to look at the larger issue of how to make the community safer.
Resident Angela Hoy, who first brought her idea to the city in July, did not attend Monday’s workshop. Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said she indicated to him in a recent e-mail that she is not interested in pursuing the issue further.
Last month, councilors tabled the proposal pending further study, but council Chairwoman Susan Hawes said Hoy and other supporters deserve a vote.
Hoy expressed frustration after that October meeting and said she and her husband had spent more than $11,000 in legal fees and she had spent hundreds of hours of her time to craft the ordinance.
Her initiative mirrors the 750-foot limit that was spelled out by LD 385, a state law passed last year. The restrictions would apply only to offenders who have committed felonies against victims under the age of 14. The change also would not apply retroactively, which means sex offenders now living within the restricted zone would not be forced to move.
As proposed in Bangor, the ordinance would make about one-third of the city off-limits to offenders, including a large part of the urban core, where many rental properties are located.
Some councilors agreed Monday that even if residency restrictions are not the answer, Bangor has far too many registered sex offenders. Gastia said the current number is just shy of 200, which is roughly the same total as Portland, a city with twice as many people.
Councilor David Nealley was particularly concerned and wondered whether the ordinance, while largely unenforceable, could send a message to offenders who might be looking to relocate to Bangor.
“What is it about Bangor that attracts this population?” he asked.
Yardley, who runs Bangor’s general assistance program, said the perception that Bangor is welcoming to sex offenders is false. Offenders have access to the same entitlements in Bangor that they would have in any other community.
It’s unclear how many of the sex offenders living in Bangor have committed felonies on victims under age 14. Offenders are required to register with the state’s online database and are monitored regularly by a Bangor police officer.
Councilor Rick Bronson called the ordinance proposal a lose-lose situation but said he was glad the city plans to vote on it one way or the other.
In the past, Hoy has said she would consider a petition drive to put a referendum out to Bangor voters, but it’s unclear whether she has any specific plans.