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New call for nudity restriction in Ashland

ASHLAND — Mayor John Stromberg has called for a city ordinance prohibiting nudity around schools after a naked man was seen walking near school grounds several times in recent days.

Stromberg previously voted against banning nudity around schools, but said he changed his mind because of the new episode of nudity. A man who told police he hails from Minnesota has been spotted at different times exposing his genitals near Ashland High School, Ashland Middle School and Walker Elementary School, according to a flurry of e-mails between city officials, school staff and police.

"I'm changing my position because this latest case involves someone who says he came to Ashland from Minnesota in order to be naked near our schools," Stromberg stated in a Wednesday e-mail to city and school staff and the Daily Tidings. "I think we want to avoid becoming an attraction for exhibitionists using our schoolchildren."

Stromberg cast a tie-breaking vote on a nudity ban in September, when he sided with City Council members Eric Navickas, Carol Voisin and David Chapman against creating a law to ban public nudity within 1,000 feet of schools.

Council members Greg Lemhouse, Russ Silbiger and Kate Jackson voted for a school-zone ban on nudity.

Stromberg stated in the e-mail that he wants to put a proposal on the City Council's Nov. 3 meeting agenda that the council direct the city attorney to draft language to prohibit nudity within 200 feet of all public and private schools.

The council could choose to adopt the prohibition or refer the issue to the voters, Stromberg said. Ashland already has a ban on the display of genitals downtown and in parks.

When Stromberg cast the tie-breaking vote in September, he said he thought the issue would be better handled through a citizens' initiative process, in which residents get the issue on the ballot themselves if they can gather enough signatures.

Earlier this summer, a California man upset some residents with his naked strolls through Ashland, especially when he appeared unclothed near Walker Elementary School as children were walking home.

Police chief Terry Holderness said the new naked man told an officer that he had come to Ashland from Minnesota because he knew he could walk around nude in Ashland, Holderness said.

"Unfortunately, we appear to have drawn national attention on this particular issue of nudity near schools," Stromberg said.

Holderness said in an e-mail that police have made contact with the man several times. Police are not releasing the man's name because he has broken no law, but they say that he is 51 years old and on vacation from Minnesota, Holderness said.

He said police have no reason to believe the man is on parole or probation, or a registered sex offender, or has any other legal reason that would prohibit him from being around children.

At the request of school officials, police told the man that if he walked onto school grounds he would be subject to arrest for trespassing. He still has a legal right to be on public sidewalks around schools, Holderness said.

"During our last contact with this person, we made him aware of the community concern and he agreed to stop walking around the school nude and told us he was leaving to return home the following day," Holderness said.

Oregon law does not ban nudity, and there is no statute prohibiting indecent exposure. Instead, people can be arrested for public indecency, which requires that sexual arousal be involved in the behavior. Masturbating or having intercourse in public would qualify as public indecency, Holderness said.

Some cities, including Eugene, Corvallis and Portland, have adopted their own laws banning public nudity, according to research compiled by Ashland City Attorney Richard Appicello.

He found that governments in Oregon have been sued both for banning public nudity, and for failing to regulate nudity on government land.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.