BANGOR, Maine — After soliciting opinions on ways to regulate panhandling on public ways such as medians, traffic islands and curbs, the Bangor City Council’s business and economic committee elected to craft some potential ordinance language and revisit the subject at its next meeting.
After committee chairman Geoffrey Gratwick asked where the committee should go with the issue of panhandling and people standing in high-traffic areas or at entrances to malls and plazas, fellow City Councilor Pat Blanchette had a quick answer.
“I’m tired of certain citizens having more civil rights and First Amendment rights than other citizens and me,” she said. “I have to draw the line at people standing in front of our businesses, or the entrances to malls begging for change.
“This is not an image I want to see Bangor have.”
Blanchette went on to make the point that Bangor, as one of a half-dozen service-center cities in the state, provides health and human services to anyone who comes into the city to seek them, regardless of their residency, as well as food and shelter through Hope House, the Bangor Homeless Shelter and other facilities.
“We provide help for people already and we don’t need to have this on top of it,” she said. “This is an organized group of moochers, I won’t say panhandlers, which you can see working in shifts and schedules.
“And they might have a ‘Will work for food’ sign on them, but if you stop and offer them a sandwich, they won’t take it because they prefer money.”
Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann made the point that he has been stopped for things other than money.
“I’ve been stopped for change, and to talk about Jesus too,” he said. “We can craft our ordinance to allow people to be safe from aggressive panhandling and keep people from being unsafe and getting themselves run over.”
Heitmann referenced a n ordinance proposal recently rejected by a 6-3 vote of the Portland City Council to prohibit anyone from occupying traffic medians except to cross streets.
“The Portland ordinance language would have made it illegal for people to go onto a median to put up a campaign sign,” he said.
Councilor Nelson Durgin said he was left unsure whether they were discussing a problem in search of a solution or a solution in search of a problem.
“I don’t believe it’s good for economic development in Bangor to have someone out in front of the Bangor Mall begging for money,” said Councilor Charlie Longo.
Heitmann then said the best way to craft the ordinance language was to do it in a way that regulated behavior, not the status, of a person.
“Let’s eliminate the median strip terminology, refocus this issue, and bring it back to us with some proposed language focusing on the actual issue,” said Durgin.
Heitmann said he would bring potential ordinance language back to the committee at its next meeting.