A proposed ordinance limiting where registered child sex offenders can live and loiter was the focus of the Portage Common Council’s discussion Thursday.
After City Clerk Marie Moe presented the ordinance’s first reading, Council Member Dennis Nachreiner raised a question that the ordinance doesn’t specifically address – namely, whether registered child sex offenders can go to church.
If a church is a place where children are known to congregate – or if the church is near such a place, like a school – Nachreiner asked whether the pastor could waive the ordinance’s rules to welcome the offender to worship.
Maybe, said City Attorney Jesse Spankowski.
The ordinance would allow the person in charge of a designated “child safety zone” to permit a particular registered offender to be in that place, Spankowski said.
In the case of a church, it would likely be the pastor who would make that call, said Mayor Rick Dodd.
The ordinance also includes a provision by which a registered sex offender could appeal to the Common Council’s Legislative and Regulatory Committee to be granted an exception to rules limiting where he or she may reside or go near.
The ordinance’s basic components are:
- Registered child sex offenders would not be allowed to live, permanently or temporarily, within 500 feet of any protected location – a location where children are known to congregate. Among the places identified by the ordinance as protected locations are school property (including such facilities as dance or music schools), athletic fields, walking trails, parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.
- Registered child sex offenders are not allowed to linger within 100 feet of such places.
- In most cases, a registered child sex offender cannot live in Portage unless he or she was a resident of Portage at the time of the offense.
- Offenders can file a request for an exception to these requirements with the city clerk, and the Legislative and Regulatory Committee can hear evidence – including details about the offense or circumstances that might not be included in police or court records – before making the final decision on the requested exception.
Nachreiner also asked about the ordinance’s provision that some portions of the hearings for exception requests can be closed to the public.
“If they were really worried about their reputation, would they be a sex offender?” he asked.
Spankowski said the state open meetings law, which allows public bodies to close meetings to protect a person’s reputation, does not apply only to the subjects of the hearings. The hearing could also be closed to protect the victim’s reputation.
Closing the hearing is not a hard-and-fast requirement, nor would it necessarily be warranted in every case, Spankowski said.
The proposed ordinance will be read and discussed again at future Common Council meetings before the council votes on its adoption.
Skate park ordinance
On another ordinance – regulating use of the Portage Family Skate Park at Goodyear Park – the council unanimously approved final adoption.
The ordinance acknowledges the relocation of the city’s skate park from near the Columbia County Fairgrounds to Goodyear Park, and prohibits the use of bicycles, or bringing in structures that aren’t already built into the facility.
Council Member Rita Maass asked whether the use of safety equipment, including but not limited to helmets, should be strongly encouraged. The ordinance does not require it, though helmets were required at the skate park’s previous location.
Council Member Mike Charles, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board, said the sign at Goodyear Park already encourages the use of helmets.
To include a helmet requirement in the ordinance would have been an “enforcement nightmare,” Charles said, because the city cannot issue citations to people younger than 12 – which accounts for about half the skate park’s users, he said.
The ordinance provides for penalties for violations of the ordinance for anyone age 12 and older, and for parents or guardians who knowingly allow children to violate the ordinance’s provisions. Repeated violations of rules can be grounds for being barred from future use of the skate park.