Wednesday, March 09, 2011

9 MAR 11: Panhandle Western

For several years we've kept a count and record here, of all the beggars who ask us for help. The number slowly has declined over the last couple of years, even with the Great Recession. Either our economy really is better than the rest of the U.S., or I don't get out as much as I once did.

The Columbus city code doesn't call them beggars. They've officially been "tramps" for decades - but that soon could change. Columbus Council began discussing a change in the law Tuesday, which would redefine them as "panhandlers." As if any of them walk around carrying pans anymore....

(It reminds me of an old TV commercial jingle. "How do you empty a heaping pan? A panhandler....")

We told you last November about a young man's campaign to end the city ban on being a tramp [8 Nov 10]. Nathan Heald took petitions to Councilor Jerry Barnes, who turned the idea into a proposed ordinance with plenty of rules. Barnes surprisingly did NOT require all panhandlers to be screened for diabetes at fire stations.

After watching the Tuesday night news, I was confused about where Uptown Columbus stands on this idea. The business group's Richard Bishop told WXTX the city needs rules regulating panhandling. Yet WRBL reported Bishop persuaded Columbus Council to postpone debate two weeks, because the proposal would make panhandling legal. Maybe he wants rules putting all the beggars in Phenix City.

Richard Bishop says the panhandling proposal needs "more research." That's strange, since the Cunningham Center at Columbus State University released a report last year indicating 1,500 people are homeless in Columbus every day [29 Dec 10]. If you put them all in the Northside Recreation Center, the Lady Wings at least would have a home crowd.

We should note the proposal does NOT prohibit begging for money. It bans "aggressive panhandling." People who simply stand on the corner holding "will work for food" signs apparently would be allowed -- and give the people selling Sunday editions of the Ledger-Enquirer unusual competition.

Councilor Jerry Barnes explains requesting money would be one thing. But continuing to ask or using abusive language after someone says no would be considered "aggressive" and illegal. Hmmmm - can we expand this proposal to include telemarketers?

As we said, the panhandling proposal includes several other nit-picky restrictions. For instance....

+ Begging would be allowed only between sunrise and sunset -- putting panhandlers on the level of small-town AM radio stations.

+ Begging would be banned within 20 feet of an automated teller machine. This could lead to NCR's biggest production spurt yet.

+ Panhandling in groups of two or more would be illegal. We don't want people confusing beggars with Jehovah's Witnesses.

+ Bus stops and the METRA transfer station would be off limits. Instead of free Wi-Fi, you'd be free of wild lies.

P.S. I have yet to meet my first beggar/panhandler/tramp of 2011. Maybe they're all in Atlanta, lobbying to keep full funding of the HOPE scholarship.

-> A recent poker night had a sad interruption. Read what happened at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

OVERHEARD OVER HERE: A man and woman are talking in an office about one of Tuesday's big events.

"Today is International Women's Day," the man says. "So why isn't there an International Men's Day?"

The woman has an easy answer for this. "Every day is men's day."

Here's what else came to our attention on the women's big day....

+ Gas prices kept inching higher in Columbus, reaching $3.49 a gallon in some locations. The Money Back at "Fourth and Fourth" still showed $3.34. But all the pumps appeared to be shut down, which probably means the cans of chili inside the store were even more overpriced than usual.

+ The Georgia Senate approved a bill allowing the clear-cutting of trees so billboards can be seen. Trees Columbus warned the other day this proposal would force the Veterans Parkway Streetscape project to be scrapped south of Ninth Street. Maybe that's why Sen. Josh McKoon voted against the bill -- to give the rundown-looking Spencer House as much natural cover as possible.

+ Auburn University had "Pro Day" for football scouts, with potential draft picks such as Cam Newton on display. Trouble is, the National Football League owners still could lock out the players - and none of the drills Tuesday involved climbing fences to get inside training sites.

(The grounds crew at Jordan-Hare Stadium painted the words "national champion" on the field for Pro Day. This is simply inviting a Terrell Owens moment next season - with opposing players jumping up and down to trample it after a touchdown.)

+ Instant Message to the Columbus city government webmaster: Wow - that old picture of the mayor and council on the "agenda" page I spotted last month is gone [9 Feb]. It's nice to see this blog is still getting results....

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