Duke students and Durham residents may continue to see panhandlers at major intersections up and down U.S. 15-501, after the Durham City Council dropped a proposed ordinance Tuesday night against roadway solicitation.
The Sales and Solicitation Ordinance would have banned all begging in the roadway in Durham. However, at the August 18 council meeting, representatives from The Herald-Sun of Durham said such a new law would also rid roadway news vendors of their livelihood.
Durham Mayor Pro-Tempore Lewis Cheek, who proposed the ordinance, insisted that no exceptions would be given to the news vendors, as they too create a danger in the roads.
"We have a right to control the activity [in the roadway], and I think we should control that activity," Cheek said. "I think it comes down to a total prohibition... or allowing all activity."
Susan Purvis, one such vendor who was able to buy a house because of her occupation, said the "street sales program" was especially relevant in the midst of a sluggish economy.
"It's how people lived in the '50s and '60s," she said. "It was called survival, then and now."
Toland Barfield, vice president of sales and marketing for the Herald-Sun, said taking action against the vendors would not only deprive them of their livelihood, "but [also show] them a great deal of disrespect."
This opposition to the ordinance prompted several council members to reconsider. Council member Cora Cole-McFadden insisted that she could not support the new ordinance after hearing of the vendors whose livelihoods depended on the street sales program. Other council members called for a compromise.
"Some would say this is an all-or-nothing situation," said Council member John Best. "Common sense shows there is a difference between vendors selling papers... and panhandlers out there wanting money for beer and drugs."
Councilor Thomas Stith called total prohibition of roadway solicitation "an erosion of our basic rights."
Toni Smith, an attorney with the Durham Police Department, agreed with Cheek's position. She said that while observing vendors in a patrol car, they were on "their best behavior" but when she returned in an unmarked car, she saw several out in the middle of the roadway.
"The police don't have time to sit and baby-sit those corners," said Smith, adding that even safety training programs couldn't protect legitimate vendors from dangerous traffic.
Mayor Bill Bell voiced his support for a regulation process. "Why can't we regulate... where people are [begging] in the city?" he said. Bell and other council members discussed prohibiting solicitation at major intersections, requiring permits for sales and solicitation in the roadway and enlisting the police to enforce regulated activity. The ordinance failed by a vote of 6 to 1, with the stipulation that a committee would be formed to investigate restricting roadway solicitation to certain areas and permitted solicitors.
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