COVINGTON -- The City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance amendment that would prohibit panhandling at any time in the city.
In a work session discussion Monday evening, the council was divided over whether to ban panhandling altogether or limit it to certain hours in the day. The proposed ordinance would have made it a misdemeanor to panhandle between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
However, Councilmen Chris Smith and Keith Dalton said they preferred to ban the practice completely, citing potential dangers to citizens. Smith and Dalton both said they and their children had been approached by panhandlers during the day at local gas stations and businesses.
Councilwoman Janet Goodman said she is more concerned with being approached by panhandlers at night than during the day.
"I think if it's in the daytime we can get rid of them ourselves basically," she said. "At night it's scary."
During the regular council meeting, Smith made a motion to approve the amendment with the time stipulation removed. Dalton seconded the motion.
During discussion, Dalton said he's been approached by panhandlers numerous times at gas stations and outside restaurants.
"I'm not concerned for my safety as much as I am for my daughters," he said.
Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams argued on the side of allowing panhandling at certain times, noting that many people are in financial constraints.
"I feel that there are definitely those that are panhandling because they have not been able to find any other resources," Williams said.
"We need to consider that there are those who are desperate and just because we are not in that position, we should not judge those who are in that position and turn our backs on them," she added.
The council vote was tied on the issue with Mike Whatley, Smith and Dalton in favor and Williams, Goodman and Ocie Franklin opposed.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston broke the tie in favor of banning panhandling altogether, saying that there are other resources to help the needy.
"I do have compassion for folks out there, and I do think people are having a hard time," Johnston said. "However, I do think there is an appropriate place for that."
Johnston said the community should work with churches and other organizations to provide help for those in need.