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Council votes to prohibit roadway solicitation

The LaGrange City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to prohibit solicitation in the roadway, following weeks of discussion on the topic. Council members Nathan Gaskin, Mark Mitchell and Jim Arrington voted in favor of the ordinance change. Council members Tom Gore and LeGree McCamey voted against. Council Member Willie Edmondson was not in attendance, and Mayor Jim Thornton would have only voted in the case of a tied vote.

The vote means that the City of LaGrange will not allow any organization to solicit in the roadway.

The council previously planned to vote on the ordinance during its Aug. 14 meeting. However, the vote was tabled so that the council could consider a request from the LaGrange Shrine Club that the ordinance include more restrictions instead of a prohibition. A substitute ordinance was drafted for that reason. Gore proposed the substitute ordinance prior to the vote, but no council members seconded the proposal, so it failed.

The city council discussed the ordinance at length during its work session earlier in the day on Tuesday and received comments from the LaGrange Police Department and a representative from the LaGrange Shriners Club at that time. The Shriners representative said that the group would not be able to solicit as often or to the same effect without roadway solicitation. The LPD’s recommendation centered around safety.

“This is one of those predictable surprises, where when we have a bad outcome, all of us have talked about it,” Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar said. “Based on public safety, the traffic, frequent complaints and the alternatives that are available that others have sought — which is you talk to Publix, you talk to Kroger, you talk to Walmart — they are able to solicit folks who are pulling into the parking lot as opposed to wandering out into traffic. From a public safety policy, it just urges the council to consider abandoning this practice.”

Mitchell stated in previous meetings that he felt roadway solicitation was dangerous to solicitors and makes drivers nervous, and he reiterated those feelings on Tuesday.

“I’ve seen what can happen — and maybe it hasn’t happened [in LaGrange] yet — but when somebody runs a red light, and another car is pulling across and gets hit and knocks it into another car, and it knocks somebody off their feet and breaks a leg, a hip. I’m telling you, if you’ve ever seen anybody laying on the ground that is all broke up, it is not worth it,” said Mitchell, who used to work for the Georgia State Patrol.

Several council members reported that they have received complaints about solicitors in the roadway and related safety concerns.

“This is one of the toughest decisions that I’ve ever had to make,” Gaskin said. “I think that the Shriners Club has done a fantastic job. You did nothing wrong. It just boils down to safety. I think it also boils down to the fact that recently the State of Georgia has outlawed cell phones to be used in a car thus making it everybody’s priority to pay attention to what is going on in the roadway, and I understand your struggle. I support your struggle, and I will be trying to come up with some sort of solution.”

The LPD has also received complaints on roadway solicitation, and Dekmar said that intersections frequently used by solicitors have high accident rates. Forty-six pedestrians have been hit by vehicles in the city in the last three years.

“We brought this to you because of a number of complaints that we received,” Dekmar said. “People don’t like folks coming up to their car. Distracted driving, I think the last stat I saw 15,000 fatalities a year [in Georgia] are attributed to it, so now we’ve got folks approaching trying to decide if they are going to reach for their purse, their console, their wallet.”

Additional concerns like city liability for injuries in the roadway by solicitors were also discussed during the work session.

Troup County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Crews was in attendance at the meeting and was able to confirm that roadway solicitation had not been discussed at the Troup County Board of Commissioners recently.

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.