City lifts municipal code bans

Organ grinders, mendicants, fakirs, panhandlers and annoying people will soon be free to roam in Ashland's parks.

A fakir is a Muslim or Hindu beggar who often claims to perform miracles. A mendicant is a member of a religious order that holds no personal or community property. He or she subsists by asking for money, food or clothing.

An Ashland City Council majority voted earlier this week to repeal sections of the Ashland Municipal Code that ban certain activities.

Those sections date as far back as 1916 and were likely against the U.S. Constitution's free speech guarantees, said City Attorney Richard Appicello.

The code had banned solicitors, beggars, commercial photographers without permission from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, agents, fakirs, peddlers, mendicants, strolling musicians, organ grinders, exhorters and showpersons from plying their trades in city parks.

People were also not allowed to "solicit the acquaintance of another in any park, or annoy or follow children, or distribute obscene literature, or in any way annoy another."

The city's noise restrictions, which control activities such as drumming, will still apply, Appicello said.

A city code section that prohibits the sale of items or services in parks without a written permit from the parks commission will stay in effect as well.

In 2007, the Ashland Police Department issued instructions to its officers not to enforce the ban on panhandling in parks because it is a constitutionally protected activity. Parks employees had still been occasionally telling panhandlers they couldn't ask for money in parks.

The City Council also repealed a ban on peddlers but adopted a new law that people going door-to-door can only visit homes between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. They are not allowed on property where "No Solicitation" or "No Trespassing" signs are posted.

Councilor Eric Navickas objected to banning people from knocking on doors where those signs are posted.

He said people gathering signatures or talking to residents about political and community issues would face fines of $500 per offense for visiting homes with the signs.

Navickas said the nation's Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution were intent on promoting democratic values. He said one of the main purposes of political canvassing is to educate the populace and create informed citizens.

"This is an attack on our constitutional rights," he said.

A City Council majority approved the first reading of the various Ashland Municipal Code changes and set the second reading for May 6. Councilors almost always give their final approval upon the second reading without making any alterations from their initial approval during the first reading.

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