By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
The Albion City Council took one step back and several steps forward in figuring out what it means to keep their streets safe and free of obstructing walkers at Monday’s council meeting.
After enforcing a “zero tolerance policy” on reckless pedestrian behavior on April 5, the council has pulled back and promised to re-evaluate that stance. Instead it voted to go ahead with “strictly enforcing section 58:98” of the city’s municipality code until further notice.
That section states: “No person shall loiter on any street or sidewalk or in a park or public place or conduct himself in any public place so as to obstruct the free and uninterrupted passage of the public.”
Two weeks after encouraging a “zero tolerance policy” without an official council vote, 38 people have been given a $110 fine under three city ordinances related to jaywalking, walking in the street, and obstructing traffic.
On Monday evening an hour-and-half discussion ensued, highlighting what citizens see as flaws in the system and council admitting some confusion on its part.
“We need to take the ordinance and re-evaluate what it says and how it works. We knew right away it would get a reaction from some people,” Mayor Joe Domingo said. “I’m sorry for the people who got caught up on it. I wasn’t thinking that night.”
A majority of the concerned citizens seemed pleased with the outcome of the civil discourse from the meeting, but it doesn’t alleviate the fact over $4,000 of fines were handed out in regards to ordinances the general public says they were unaware of.
Ernest Drake and Alfredia Dysart-Drake have been Albion residents for nearly 30 years and they were in disbelief when their college-aged son was ticketed on April 12.
Alfredia Dysart-Drake said her son and two of his friends had been studying at the Albion College library, when around midnight they went on a walk to the Shell gas station up the road.
She said the young men were walking on the south side of Cass Street, which has no sidewalk, when they decided to cross the road to get on a sidewalk before the corner of Monroe Street.
As they crossed the road a police car shined its lights on them, asked for their IDs and promptly gave each of them a citation.
“(The officer) said it was because they were jaywalking and walking in the streets,” Dysart-Drake said. “In the area they were crossing there were no sidewalks available, but they were still given a $110 ticket, which really comes down to a parent will pay it. And I would gladly trade that for the tuition I pay at Albion College.”
Olivia Harvey of Albion had a similar experience.
Harvey said her 14-year old daughter received a citation when crossing the road at the wrong place, when an officer was parked on a nearby corner watching for people.
“I was disappointed my daughter had to go through this,” she said. “There are many places in this city with no sidewalks and I think this is just a way to make a few dollars.”
Miller said he understood people’s concerns, but his officers were just following council’s order.
“I asked exactly what you wanted and you said ‘zero tolerance,’” he said. “I told our officers to do that. We can change that if you want, but there were no dissenting comments (last meeting).”
He said ordinance 58:98 has been on the books for over 20 years and this discussion comes up every year around this time.
Miller said public safety has advertised the law in schools and the community in the past, but Dysart-Drake wants to see the education of citizens expanded.
“If you’re not enforcing it, and then all of a sudden you’re beginning to enforce it….what you need to do first is educate, advertise and then enforce,” she said. “You need to reach out in schools and in the papers, but realize not everybody subscribes to the paper and a lot of homes do not have computers.
How are people going to learn that the ordinance is now being informed?”
As for the $110 fines, Miller said by law he cannot void them, but the issuing officers are at his/her discretion to do so at a pre-trial.
Domingo said he hopes some of the fines can be nullified and council will be discussing the possible price reduction of some of the ordinances on the book in the next few weeks.
“We’re juggling. We know not everybody is at fault, but since this happened we have cleared the street,” he said. “If we are on video (from police vehicles) then we can show people what we’re dealing with. What we want to get rid of is people walking four or five abreast down the street, where they flip people off, they scream at them and everything else.”
Ernest Drake said even if his son has to pay the fine for his citation he feels like the council and the community made significant progress on the issue.
“I just think the City Council didn’t think it would get that much backlash. Bottom line is we have to educate people and then after a grace period lets enforce it.”