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Talent backs away, for now, on exclusion zones

Faced with opposition in public testimony and the threat of a lawsuit, Talent City Council last week backed away from an ordinance that would exclude troublemakers from city parks. That doesn't mean the idea is dead, however.

“We are not dropping this,” said Mayor Darby Stricker. "We do believe that there are some actions we need to take."

Problems in city parks, including with graffiti, drug use, concealed weapons and fights, led police Chief Curtis Whipple to seek authority to exclude those engaged in prohibited conduct from entering parks or other city property for varying periods of time.

The idea, however, prompted a threat from Medford lawyer Bill Mansfield, who has already filed suits against Medford and Ashland over similar exclusion zones.

“It’s my opinion that in Oregon this ordinance you are considering is unconstitutional,” Mansfield told the council. The rules violate freedom of speech and freedom of association rights, he said.

Stricker suggested the council wait to see the outcome of the Ashland and Medford cases and formed an ad hoc committee of herself, Whipple and Councilor John Harrison to determine whether there is a way to proceed with such a rule in the future.

The ordinance would not exclude people from the downtown area, contrary to information that circulated on Facebook, Whipple said. He estimated that exclusions would be issued to only four or five people in a year.

“Those folks have a great impact on the parks for other users," said Whipple. The rules were not targeted at any group, including homeless individuals, he said, but are aimed at behavior.

“The chief of police made a good case for another tool, but it seems to me that this would be too subjective to be really enforceable,” said Dan Davis, during public comment. “It seems to me like it really would be unconstitutional. I urge a no vote.”

The ordinance was broad and a portion that said exercising free speech rights was not an exclusion criteria seemed to be contradicted by other provisions, said Derek Volkart.

Public speakers and some council members also questioned giving exclusionary authority to the city manager and the public works director in addition to police.

Among provisions in the proposed ordinance:

  • An appeal of the exclusion to Jackson County Justice Court, which operates as the city’s municipal court, would immediately stay the exclusion, allowing an individual access to city property until the court ruled.
  • An initial exclusion would be for 30 days. Escalating time periods up to 180 days would apply to those who re-offend.
  • Exclusion from one park would result in exclusion from all parks.
  • Prohibited conduct included visible intoxication, abusive language or conduct, criminal activity, disruption of lawful meetings and conduct that is otherwise disruptive to the efficient function of government affairs.

"I’m concerned that this ordinance is a tool that could be used as a club,” said Councilor Daniel Wise. "I don’t think that’s the intention."

Councilor Emily Berlin also opposed the ordinance.

“I’d like to see some form of this tool brought forward,” said Councilor Ken Baker. “It would be prudent to contact our our city attorneys and ask their opinions.”

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.