BANGOR, Maine — Calling it a feel-good ordinance that could do more harm than good, city councilors ended several months of debate on Monday by rejecting a proposal that sought to impose residency restrictions on certain sex offenders.
The vote was 8-1.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this. … I’m convinced it would do nothing to improve the safety of our children,” Councilor Nelson Durgin said.
Added Councilor Geoff Gratwick: “It’s a difficult topic, a hard topic. I think it’s something we’ll become much more cognizant of as a council going forward.”
Angela Hoy, the city resident behind the proposal to create 750-foot buffers around schools, parks and other areas for offenders who committed felonies against victims under the age of 14, did not attend Monday’s meeting. However, earlier in the day, Hoy said that she and her husband are still interested in spurring the city to do something to deter sex offenders from settling in Bangor. She said her goal now is to further her cause through a website, www.protectbangorkids.com, and to continue advocating a cause that has affected her family firsthand.
“[Councilors] have heard everything I have to say. We gave them a very simple and legal tool to address the problem,” she said. “They are choosing to do nothing.”
Hoy’s initiative, which first came before the city in July, mirrored a 750-foot limit that was spelled out in a state law passed last year. Few towns in the state have discussed local restrictions since the state law passed. Earlier this year, Portland rejected a proposal similar to Bangor’s.
In Bangor, the change also would not have applied retroactively, which meant sex offenders living within the restricted zone would not have been forced to move. Nevertheless, the ordinance would have made about one-third of the city off-limits to offenders, including a large part of the urban core, where many rental properties are located.
David Nealley, the only councilor to support the residency restriction proposal, said it would have sent a strong signal that sex offenders are not welcome here.
Other councilors and staff members have agreed with Hoy and Nealley that the growing number of sex offenders living in Bangor is troublesome, but they also have argued that Hoy’s proposal would do more harm than good.
Police Chief Ron Gastia and Shawn Yardley, health and community services director, testified at a prior council workshop that residency restrictions would not achieve their intended goal of protecting children.
Gastia said the ordinance would create a false sense of security for parents and added that a community needs to be more concerned about the sex offenders they don’t know rather than the ones who already are monitored.
Yardley also 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. He said parental education, not government regulations, should be Bangor’s focus.
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.