Council passes Youth Protection Ordinance

Editor’s Note: It has recently come to our attention that the copy of the Youth Protection Ordinance that was included with the press materials and made available to readers in this article is not the version of the ordinance which was passed at last night’s meeting.

In a 7-1 vote, with only Council member Bernard Alston dissenting, the Henderson City Council passed the Youth Protection Ordinance last night after a public hearing.

The ordinance is set to go into effect on April 2 of this year.

Before the public hearing was declared open, City Manager Jerry Moss gave the near-capacity audience background on the ordinance. He told those assembled that a hearing on the ordinance had been held in the County Courthouse, and that notices had been published in the the paper.

Moss also noted that copies of the ordinance have been published on Home in Henderson.

After Henderson Mayor Clem Seifert declared the public hearing open, Candice Cash, the Coble Boulevard resident who provided the initial impetus through a petition campaign to form the original curfew committee, thanked the Council for the opportunity to come up with the ordinance. She said that all necessary steps had been taken, and that the ordinance “looks out for local businesses”.

Cash said that she was also speaking as a mother of a young child, and that she was comfortable with the ordinance. She asked the Council to vote for it.

Stacy Mamn of the West Henderson Community Watch gave the ordinance the support of that organization. He noted, however, that some were concerned about its enforcement.

H. Larry Ellman told the Council that he had read the ordinance and compared it to using an elephant gun to swat flies. He objected to it on the grounds that it hurts a law-abiding majority for a minority of troublemakers, and that it affects the youth of four counties, as Henderson is a center for the surrounding area.

Ellman went on to say that by hurting the innocent, the ordinance was “making an insult to the Constitution”. He suggested that the youths making trouble should be arrested.

“Good kids and good parents don’t need this,” Ellman said.

Ellman also claimed that during the meeting in County Courthouse on the issue that youths were given a “propaganda pitch”. He said that they agreed to the ordinance “under duress”.

“It’s a youth harassment ordinance,” Ellman said, ending his comments.

Resident Donald Green disagreed with Ellman, stating that his children grew up in New York City, but he always knew where they were. He spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Pastor Wesley Crews thanked the Youth Protection Committee for its concern, but stated that he felt the concern was misplaced. He said that the issue was crime and poverty.

Crews blamed the “system” for the problems of youth. Citing the end of corporal punishment in the schools, he said that parents and teachers are afraid of the child because of the system.

Crews said that he was troubled because blacks would be hurt the most by the ordinance.

The pastor asked what would happen if a child had to walk back and forth [past curfew] for heating oil because of a lack of containers?

He asked the Council to bring real jobs, as opposed to minimum wage jobs, to Vance County.

“Oxford gets jobs — what about here?” Crews asked.

Crews said that many blacks were not present at the council meeting because they did not feel that the Council would “do for them”.

He also asked why children are kicked out of school. Crews said when kids are kicked out, they are going to do what they have to do. He used the example of selling drugs.

Crews added that the police force is stressed. He said that the ordinance would burden them more. He indicated that negative encounters with African-American youth caused by the ordinance might influence future encounters.

Eugene Burton, the president of the Flint Hill Community Watch, spoke strongly against the ordinance being a black or white issue.

“People are getting confused,” Burton said.

Burton stressed that the curfew was a matter of getting children where they belong.

“Parents aren’t concerned,” he said.

Burton asked the Council to pass the ordinance, telling them that they had to start somewhere.

Nancy Jo Smith, an owner and operator of Marketplace Cinema, asked if there had been a change regarding the responsibility of businesses in the ordinance. Moss responded that curfew had been extended to 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and that businesses were responsible for children under 16 on their premises and that the children must have an adult pick them up at the door. She was also told that if the child was to leave unattended, responsiblity would be placed on the child and parents, not the business.

Smith thanked the Council for the changes. She then stated that she was not opposed to the curfew and that she was concerned for the welfare of children in general. She said that she hoped to dispel the myth that had been created that she was only concerned about the bottom line. She stated that she only wanted to ensure that children not causing problems were not penalized.

The Reverend John Miles asked the Council and the audience to deal with the issue and not with race. He asked what could be done to help with the lives of young people.

Attempting to quell rumors that he is a racist, he said, “I don’t have no hatred in my heart for my white brothers and sisters.”

Rachel Daye asked from the audience if children could go outside of the city limits until 5:00 a.m. to avoid the curfew. City Attorney John Zollicoffer affirmed that this was the case.

Pastor Brenda Peace stated that children fifteen years or younger should be at home, “bottom line”.

Miles told the Council that he would love to sit down and talk to the Chief of Police about the ordinance.

Seifert then declared the meeting closed.

Council member Mary Emma Evans asked if children under 15 could be in any business until their parents picked them up.

Zollicoffer responded that they could be attending an official school function, a religious or recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by a public or private school, city or other government entity, or a “recognized recreation establishement”.

Evans asked what happens to children whose parents do not have cars. She asked if they have to leave early.

Zollicoffer responded that they have to leave accompanied.

Evans said that the Council has to decide what a recognized recreation establishment is.

Zollicoffer said that one has to use their common sense. He cited Marketplace Cinema and Adventure Island as examples.

Evans said that it should be written down.

Evans then asked if the roll call vote could go in the other direction.

Usually, the vote begins with with Evans and works its way around the table to Council member Ranger Wilkerson, with Bernard Alston, Lynn Harper, Bobby Gupton, Elissa Yount, Garry Daeke, and Lonnie Davis casting the intervening votes in that order. Seifert votes last in the case of a tie vote.

Zollicoffer stated that the vote could go in any order the council wished.

Davis moved that the ordinance be adopted. Gupton seconded the motion.

Alston said that the Council needs to do something, but that he was still not convinced that [the ordinance] was it. He said he was still not satisfied with things.

Evans said that it needs more work. She said the problem in Henderson is that we don’t discuss things enough.

Wilkerson asked Evans to explain some of those “things”.

Evans declined to answer.

Seifert asked when the ordinance would go into effect if adopted. The motion was amended so that the ordinance would go into effect on April 2. A plan to copy the ordinance and distribute it to students in Vance County schools was mentioned so that everyone would have a copy regardless of age.

Evans said that she was disappointed that members of her ward had not spoken. She asked if a time limit could be put on the ordinance.

Seifert responded that the Council could repeal every ordinance that it passes.

Daeke said that he was impressed with the committee’s work. He said that he thought the ordinance would aid [Henderson]. He also said that the ordinance should be reviewed in three to six months, and suggested that this should be a policy on all ordinances the Council adopts.

Wilkerson said that he did not like raising the hours of curfew on Friday and Saturday nights, but that he was “going with it”.

“Gotta start somewhere,” the former Fire Chief said.

Davis said before the vote that the ordinance was something that people had talked about for a number of years. He suggested that it be “given a shot”.

The roll call vote was taken in the traditional order.