Bangor City Council to revisit sex offender residency restrictions struck down in 2010

Posted March 18, 2013, at 8:19 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Calling it a “feel-good,” paper-tiger ordinance, Bangor City Councilors 27 months ago rejected an ordinance that would have restricted where sex offenders could live in the city in a lopsided 8-1 vote. Now, they’ll tackle the proposal again.

This year’s council, at least initially, isn’t nearly as united in its opposition of such an ordinance.

Councilor Charlie Longo, who was among the eight in 2010, argued that Bangor is a drastically different community than it was two years ago, and that this ordinance would “send a message.”

Councilors James Gallant and Ben Sprague, who argued that the burden of proof should be on why such an ordinance shouldn’t exist, also expressed their tentative support.

The city’s Government Operations Committee voted during its Monday evening meeting to send the ordinance back to council for a first reading, and then onto a committee or workshop to iron out details.

The 2010 ordinance applied to people convicted of Class A, B or C sex offenses perpetrated against a person younger than 14. Offenders in that category would have been restricted to living outside a 750-foot radius around any elementary or middle school or any publicly-owned property where children are the primary users, like certain parks or a playground.

After receiving requests from several newer city councilors about what the city’s options are regarding restrictions on sex offenders, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said state statute allows municipalities to restrict how close convicted sex offenders may live to public places frequented by children. He pulled out a copy of the 2-year-old failed ordinance, which the council, committees and city staff had deliberated, researched and debated for about six months.

Council Chairman Nelson Durgin said Monday that the ordinance targeted an “emotional issue” but that research conducted by then-Police Chief Ron Gastia found that such efforts were “totally ineffective in other states and had nothing but symbolic meaning.”

He also disagreed with Longo’s assessment that Bangor has changed dramatically in the past two years.

Councilor Patricia Blanchette also argued that the ordinance wouldn’t accomplish anything significant. She said the courts and probation officers already do a good job policing sex offenders.

Councilors Patricia Blanchette, Nelson Durgin, Charlie Longo, Susan Hawes and David Nealley were on the 2010 council. Nealley was the only councilor to support the ordinance in 2010.

City Manager Cathy Conlow said the city could use geographic information system data to map out the zones in which registered sex offenders wouldn’t be allowed to live and assess its effects.

Also on Monday night, the city council rejected Kristian M. Lawson’s appeal of the city’s decision to not renew his taxicab license. The city has the right to deny a license based on certain criminal convictions.

During a background check in February, police found that Lawson had a 2009 conviction for possession of Schedule W drugs, which lead to the denial of his request.

Lawson appealed, but didn’t show up at Monday’s special council meeting to explain himself. Because he wasn’t there, councilors quickly rejected his appeal.

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