Rule change will avoid legal fight in Salem parks

SALEM — A language change to prohibit soliciting for profit without a permit in city parks while also removing the line that prohibits “fortune-telling, begging or soliciting of any kind” will come before city council next for its consideration.

City council’s Parks Committee chaired by Councilman Ron Zellers agreed to recommend the change in a brief meeting Tuesday night. The city Parks Commission had already discussed the proposal during its meeting last week to address a legal threat posed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the inclusion of begging or panhandling in the list of acts that are prohibited in city parks.

The group had sent a letter to the city earlier this year threatening to file suit if the law wasn’t changed, alleging that prohibiting begging was prejudicial to people who are homeless.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance will take out the language in the prohibited acts list regarding “fortune-telling, begging or soliciting of any kind” and replace it with “soliciting for profit without a permit.”

Only that line will be affected by the change — the rest of the list of prohibited acts will remain intact, allowing the parks director to remove people from the parks if they’re continually breaking the rules or even bar them from the parks for a year.

In another parks-related matter, Parks Director Shane Franks reported to council that the new parks department office opens today at 2222 Oak St. with a new phone number at 330-271-8913. The department moved out of the Salem Memorial Building, completing the separation process that started nearly a year ago.

Councilman Steve Faber, who is the building director at the Memorial Building and previously served as the parks director for many years, wished the parks department good luck in their new location. He also announced that the Memorial Building also has a new phone number at 234-575-7170.

The old phone number previously used by the parks and the Memorial Building has been disconnected.