Memphis City Council takes on panhandling debate

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Business leaders, community activists and Memphis City Council members debated what to do about aggressive panhandling downtown during a committee meeting Tuesday.

An ordinance proposed to Council members by the Center City Commission would create a panhandling-free zone.  Meanwhile a second ordinance would ban single beer sales to deter drunk behavior.

The Center City Commission's Jeff Sanford said $5 billion in downtown investments are on the line, "Because downtown is in danger of losing its customers."

The ordinances have a long list of supporters, including Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin.

"We're arresting the same folks over and over again," Godwin said. "They get right out and they come right back."

As they debated the ordinance, Council members considered equity.

"I'm not sure how that is fair to the rest of the citizens where this same issue is happening," council member Wanda Halbert said.

"The difference about downtown is it's an economic matter," council member Bill Boyd added.

But some people fear the ordinances could hurt their bottom line.  During the discussion, a downtown convenience store owner told Council members that single beer sales are account for 30 percent of his business.

"They are not only buying beer," the store owner said. "They're buying cigarettes. They're buying snacks."

But later, a representative from the Peabody Hotel recalled how aggressive panhandling ran off a major convention.

"(The convention's organizer) called the meeting planner, and said, 'Let's pack up. We're not bringing our convention to this city'," the Peabody representative said.

Community activists said the current laws are enough.

"The problem is at 201, and we need to be working with the judges, public defenders and D.A.'s to solve this," said a representative from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

In the end, the committee approved the ordinances, but the showdown is far from over.

The debate will either pass or fail, after three votes by the full Memphis City Council.

Ordinance Supporters:
Chamber of Commerce
Convention and Visitors Bureau
Downtown Neighborhood Association
First Tennessee
Hotel Motel Association
Memphis Police
Morgan Keegan
National Civil Rights Museum
Peabody Hotel
South Main Association

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