By Rosemary K. Otzman
There were three township ordinances on the agenda of the March 4 regular meeting of the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees.
Two were to be amended to comply with current state law, but the third was to be repealed because it had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The First Readings to amend ordinances on retail fraud and purchasing, consumption, and possession of alcohol by persons under 21 were passed unanimously by the board. The two amendments are expected to be back for their Second Reading and adoption on the March 18 board agenda.
But any action on the ordinance on begging that the ACLU said was unconstitutional was postponed until it could be fully discussed in a board work/study session, possibly on March 17.
Trustee Jeff Jahr, who is an attorney, said he wanted to discuss other options than the repeal that the township attorney recommended because there was a second suggestion by that attorney.
That was to write an ordinance against aggressive solicitation.
Jahr also wanted the township attorney and the public safety director present to help with the discussion. Neither was present at the March 4 meeting.
VBT Supervisor Linda Combs introduced the repeal recommendation to the board.
“The ACLU said our ordinance is unconstitutional and our attorney drafted an amended ordinance and sent it to the ACLU” but the ACLU still didn’t like it, she said.
Supervisor Combs said repeal takes two readings.
Trustee Phil Hart said it was his understanding that no one was cited under this ordinance to bring on this challenge.
“The ACLU is looking for a test case and if we enforced it they could use us as a test case,” Supervisor Combs said.
Clerk Leon Wright said the attorney recommended repealing it and then revisiting it in 24 months after there is some case law.
“Let’s not create a problem,” Clerk Wright said.
Trustee Hart said some people look at the begging ordinance as harassment.
“There is no state law that says it is illegal,” pointed out Treasurer Sharry Budd.
“The attorney says repeal it and re-approach it in 24 months,” Clerk Wright repeated. “We’re not having an issue, so why create an issue?”
“But you do have begging on every corner,” said Trustee Reggie Miller.
Jahr said it could be that if the ACLU wanted to solicit funds, it would be prohibited by that ordinance.
“This ordinance is broad and general and not specific to survive a constitutional challenge,” Jahr said. “Our attorney said we could prohibit aggressive solicitation … We really don’t have a problem. Our attorney suggests we repeal and look at it down the pike.”
Jahr predicted that “fairly shortly there will be test case.”
Clerk Wright said aggressive solicitation has been explained to him as when you say no to someone asking for money outside a store and he follows you to the store still begging and then approaches you again when you come out of the store and continues to ask for money.
Miller said she has been approached at freeway exits and she’s called police to have the person removed. She said she was afraid police officers won’t know how to enforce this.
Supervisor Combs said they could enforce the “disorderly conduct” ordinance.
Wright agreed if the board repeals the begging ordinance, police can enforce disorderly conduct.
Trustee Brenda McClanahan, a retired Detroit Police officer, said disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor that goes before the district court all the time. She said begging can be a ruse to rob and assault.
In other business at the 78-minute meeting, the board:
• After a public hearing, unanimously approved use of $125,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the 2014-15 fiscal year, with most of it — $93,750 – going to complete improvements to the Beck Ball Fields. This includes new dugouts, new landscaping, new pavilion, and improvements to the concession building. Also allocations of $9,375 each goes to partial payment of the Senior Director’s salary and to Parks and Recreation program for youth. Also $6,250 was allocated to completing updates to the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance and $6,250 for reimbursement of the township staff time to administer the CDBG program. The CDBG budget was presented to the board by planning consultant Sally Hodges because VBT Director of Planning and Economic Development Arthur Mullen took two personal days off;
• Approved the appointment of James Williams, Director of Plant Operations, as the Van Buren Public Schools’ representative to the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) with a term to expire Aug. 12, 2014. Former LDFA member Marcus Leon resigned his position with the school in December to take a position in Holland, MI;
• Approved changes in the Salaried Employees Benefits Manual as mandated by the state to cap pension/deferred compensation for all new hires to a maximum of 10% of one’s base salary. The township had paid 12%. Combs said in order to get state funds, municipalities needed to comply; and
• Heard Combs read a letter dated Feb. 14 from School Supt. Michael VanTassel who thanked Public Safety Director Greg Laurain for sending a police car to Rawsonville Elementary School on Feb. 13 to show a police presence when the district faced emergencies at three facilities and the Washtenaw County Sheriff wasn’t available for Rawsonville.
After the work/study session on March 3, the VBT Board went into closed-door session with its attorney Kaveh Kashef of Clark Hill to discuss a privileged attorney-client letter about Visteon.
By Rosemary K. Otzman