Ashland Municipal Code — "Solicitors, commercial photographers without permission from the Park Commission, agents, fakirs, peddlers, mendicants, strolling musicians, organ grinders, exhorters, and showpersons shall not ply their several vocations within the park limits .... No person shall solicit the acquaintance of another in any park, or annoy or follow children, or distribute obscene literature, or in any way annoy another."

Anyone who wants to annoy others, make friends or ply their trade as an organ grinder, mendicant, fakir or strolling musician in Ashland's parks may soon be able to do so without breaking the law.

Panhandling in the parks could also be allowed.

City Attorney Richard Appicello has drafted changes to Ashland Municipal Code sections that date back as far as 1916.

The Ashland City Council will consider repealing sections of the code at a meeting on April 1. If adopted, the changes would go into effect immediately under emergency provisions because the sections may violate freedom of speech rights protected by the Oregon and United States Constitutions.

Appicello said reviewing possibly unconstitutional sections of the city code has been on the legal department's to-do list since 2007. That year, the department warned city staff not to enforce a city law against soliciting in the parks. The law could have affected people who distribute election flyers.

Appicello said he wanted to have the City Council make changes before the May primaries this year. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and its Southern Oregon chapter have said a city law against panhandling violates free speech guarantees in the United States and Oregon Constitutions.

— — — — — — — Organ Grinder — — — — — — — — — Fakir — — — — — — — — Street Musician — — — In a letter sent last week, ACLU members asked the city to repeal an Ashland Municipal Code section that states "no one shall solicit affairs or beg or publicly solicit subscriptions in any part of the parks."

ACLU members said in the letter that the city no longer enforces the law since the Ashland Police Department issued directions to officers in February 2007 that panhandling is not a crime, but instead is a constitutionally protected activity.

Appicello said the ACLU previously raised concerns about the city code late last year.

Another problematic section of the Ashland Municipal Code states that "solicitors, commercial photographers without permission from the Parks Commission, agents, fakirs, peddlers, mendicants, strolling musicians, organ grinders, exhorters, and showpersons shall not ply their several vocations within the park limits."

A fakir is a Muslim or Hindu beggar who often claims to perform miracles. A mendicant is a member of a religious order that holds no personal or community property. He or she subsists by asking for money, food or clothing.

Appicello said city noise ordinances will still apply that restrict the playing of musical instruments such as drums.

City law also states that "no person shall solicit the acquaintance of another in any park, or annoy or follow children, or distribute obscene literature, or in any way annoy another."

Appicello said aspects of the city code obviously date to a time when different social customs prevailed.

"It must have been socially improper to approach a young lady in the park without a proper introduction," he said.

Ralph Temple, co-chair of the ACLU of Oregon Southern Oregon Chapter, said this week that he is pleased that the City Council will review the ban on panhandling in the parks.

In February, the ACLU sued the city of Medford in Jackson County Circuit Court for its ban on panhandling at intersections.

Temple said he doesn't believe most people in Ashland are concerned about regular panhandling, but instead object to panhandlers who threaten or block passers-by.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department does occasionally enforce the rules against panhandling in the parks, said Parks Director Don Robertson.

He said as recently as last summer he asked a person to leave a park and panhandle elsewhere.

Eliminating the ban on panhandling in the parks may increase the activity there, but Robertson said most panhandling is concentrated in areas with a lot of foot traffic, such as downtown and at the entrance to Lithia Park.

A city code section that prohibits the sale of items or services in parks without a written permit from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is not being repealed.

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