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Va. city's intersection ordinance may impact 'Fill the Boot' campaign

Mayor Rick West said he knew going into last week's vote that the new rules would affect the fire department, but he's confident they will find another way


By Victoria Bourne 
The Virginian-Pilot

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The Chesapeake Fire Department's Fill the Boot campaign is just one casualty of a "solicitation ordinance" that goes into effect next month, because the fundraiser includes gathering donations at busy intersections.

Fire officials said it's hard to gauge the impact of the new regulations. They raised $100,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association this year.

"It's brand new to us," said Capt. Scott Saunders. "We're going to have to step back and examine how we do collections next year."

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the ordinance. City officials have said it was introduced to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, but it also came after a proliferation of panhandling in commercial areas of the city.

The ordinance includes a ban on cars stopping at green lights, unless yielding to another car or a crossing pedestrian. It also makes it illegal to "stand, sit, squat or lie in between motor vehicle traffic lanes on any public right of way" when there are four or more lanes or where the posted speed limit is 35 mph or higher. Possible penalties for pedestrians and drivers include community service or fines.

The ordinance applies to all people, regardless of their reason for being in a right of way, city officials said, except the following:

  • Those lawfully crossing the street
  • Emergency personnel
  • Government contractors
  • Inmates mowing grass or cleaning ditches
  • City volunteers in the Sign Sweeper, Adopt-a-Garden and Adopt-a-Spot programs
  • Those with permits to work in the right of way
  • Permitted parades and processions
  • Emergencies

The permitting exception does not apply to charitable collections, fundraising or other similar activities, all of which are prohibited, officials said.

City Attorney Jan Proctor, through a city spokesman, said the fire department wasn't notified prior to the adoption of the ordinance that the new regulations would affect Fill the Boot.

The campaign has been around in Chesapeake since 2000, according to Saunders. It runs for just under two weeks in late August, and benefits the nonprofit Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Lt. Anthony Barakat, president of the city's professional firefighters union, said all stations are encouraged to participate. Busy intersections have been places where firefighters can generate the most donations, he said.

Firefighters wear their uniforms, as well as high visibility traffic vests or T-shirts, and signage is placed in the area to alert drivers. Firefighters also try to avoid traffic stoppages during green lights, Saunders said.

Neighboring cities also Fill the Boot. The Suffolk Fire & Rescue Department, for example, has been involved in the campaign for the last 18 years, according to a city spokesman. Instead of collecting money in city medians, or standing on streets or right of ways, department personnel get permission to solicit donations at the storefronts of local businesses.

Chesapeake Councilman Robert Ike said he had no problem with the fire department's long-standing tradition of collecting donations in roadway medians because of their experience and training. But he did have a problem last summer when he saw young football players in uniform darting from car to car at Volvo Parkway and Battlefield Boulevard in Greenbrier. That scared him, he said, and that's why he supported the changes.

"We either allow people to do it or we don't," Ike said. "Erring on the side of public safety, this is probably the best that we could do to keep us out of trouble with the Supreme Court."

Mayor Rick West said he knew going into last week's vote that the new rules would affect the fire department, but he's confident firefighters will find another way to collect money. Councilman Dwight Parker said he'd like to see some flexibility in the regulations, but because the ordinance is based on public safety issues, it can't be amended to exempt charities, according to Proctor.

The city can't allow some "expressive conduct" in the right of way, such as Fill the Boot, and not allow others, such as panhandling, without running a risk of the ordinance being deemed unconstitutional, Proctor said.

Saunders and Barakat say they have a several months to figure out how they'll Fill the Boot in 2018 and beyond.

"We run a very successful campaign," Saunders said. "If the ordinance doesn't allow (collecting at intersections), we're going to look for ways to make it successful."

Copyright 2017 The Virginian-Pilot

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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