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Council outlaws “aggressive” panhandling, removes Main Street parking restrictions

The Whiteville city council decided in a split vote Tuesday night to outlaw “aggressive” panhandling, unanimously agreed to remove two-hour parking restrictions on Main Street, agreed to apply for a $150,000 grant to study the city’s water infrastructure, heard that the N.C. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) is planning to study making Columbus Street a gateway to downtown as part of the Powell Boulevard widening project and heard an update on the city’s preparations for Hurricane Florence.

Councilman Tim Blackmon cast the only dissenting vote as council decided 5-1 to amend its solicitation and begging ordinance to prohibit “aggressive begging, panhandling, or solicitation” and institute a $100 civil penalty for violations. Blackmon said he was against the ban because it amounts to “picking on a group of people who are disadvantaged economically.”

Council member Sarah Thompson made the motion, seconded by Jimmy Clarida, to enact the change, which would permit “passive” begging, panhandling and charitable and political solicitation as free speech except on defined “high traffic” roadways. The small traffic medians within the historic Courthouse Square would be exempt from those “high traffic” area restrictions.

Council unanimously approved a motion by Justin Smith and seconded by Clarida to adopt a staff recommendation to eliminate existing two-hour parking restrictions on Main Street but deferred for later consideration another staff recommendation to impose parking restrictions along Duval and Sunnyside Streets near where the town anticipates building a new ABC store.

In another unanimous vote, council authorized City Manager Darren Currie to sign documents to apply for a $150,000 grant from the N.C. Division of Water Quality to prepare a water asset management plan that would review all aspects of the city’s water system. Should the grant be awarded, a $7,500 local match would be required.

District Engineer Ken Clark updated council on the DOT’s plans for widening Powell Boulevard and said the department is considering a request to accommodate business interests’ desires for a “gateway” into downtown Whiteville by making Columbus Street such an entry point.

Emergency Manager Hal Lowder updated council on the city’s plans for dealing with the approaching Hurricane Florence.

The meeting opened with pomp and ceremony in observance of the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the nation. A large contingent of police officers and firefighters attended in their formal dress uniforms and a police/fire color guard posted the colors before Mayor Terry Mann issued a proclamation designating Sept. 11 as “First Responders’ Day and a Day of Service and Remembrance” in Whiteville

Stuart Rogers