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Posted: September 18, 2012 9:16 p.m.

Panhandling not allowed in city

City of Covington council members were split on making a decision to amend an ordinance that would make it unlawful to engage in panhandling at their council meeting Monday night.

Council voted 3 to 3 on approving the first reading of an amended ordinance that would prohibit people from soliciting in public places in the city.

According to the amendment, panhandling includes a person requesting an immediate donation of money or other gratuity from another person.

Council members Chris Smith, Keith Dalton and Michael Whatley voted to approve the amendment but council members Janet Goodman, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin voted against the measure.

"I'm not for any of our residents being panhandled," Dalton said. "I have two daughters. I'm not concerned for my safety, but for my daughters. I have a 16 year old and one who's in her early 20s," he said. "I don't want any of our citizens harassed."

Williams opposed saying that there were people who were legitimately in need and the ordinance would make it illegal for them to ask for money.

"I can't judge all of them based on the fact that they are doing something illegal," she said. "I feel that there are definitely those who are panhandling because they've not been able to find any other resources."

"I think that we need to consider that there are those who are desperate. Just because we are not in that position, I don't think we should judge those who find themselves in that position and just turn our backs on them," she said.

Smith disagreed with Williams' statement.

"I do feel that it is our position that we make sure our public and our city is safe," Smith said. "I think this is one way we can keep them safe."

Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton addressed some of the issues the police department has seen with people panhandling in the city.

"We have gotten calls of people harassing folks," Cotton said. "I don't think anyone minds helping a person out, but it's the person who keeps on and keeps on. It's a tool for us to be able to use for the enforcement for those people who are harassing," he said.

"One of the problems I run into on the night shift in the middle of the night is that people are coming down off their drugs or off their alcohol or what ever are trying to get money to go back and get something else."

Mayor Ronnie Johnston made the final deciding vote to approve the amendment.

"I do have a compassion for folks out there and I do think a lot of people are having a hard time. However, I also believe there is an appropriate place for that and I think that's where we need to kind of expect our churches to step up and our civic organizations," he said.

"Everybody is having a hard time right now but I also think I would much rather have those folks who are out there right now who are panhandling to feed their children and to feed themselves, we need to encourage them and make the statement that that's not the best way to do it and let's encourage our churches to step up because I think that's actually more of an appropriate way to handle that."

In other council business, council members approved for the Covington-Newton Chamber's Tourism committee to start the process of adding pavers to the downtown area through the Walk of Fame Tile Program. Clara Deemer, director of tourism, told the council that pavers would be placed around the square downtown to mark where scenes of movies were filmed. Deemer said the cost of each paver would be between $175 and $200 depending on what wording was placed on the paver. She said the money would come out of the Tourism budget.

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