Most people driving through Forsyth County on any given weekend will probably see them.
They’re those volunteers donned in bright orange or yellow vests with buckets in hand. They stand at busy intersections hoping drivers will deposit that extra change laying in console to their cause.
Many groups take advantage of Forsyth’s crossroads of popular highways, such as Market Place Boulevard and Hwy. 20, but what exactly must they do to collect money there?
Apparently, just show up.
According to government and law enforcement officials, there’s really nothing that groups have to do in advance in order to solicit donations at local road crossings.
While the Forsyth County commission considered an ordinance last spring that would have required those wanting to solicit on roads to first obtain a permit, the measure was never adopted.
“County ordinance has nothing in place that allows anybody to solicit … there’s nothing in writing from the county ordinance to indicate anything really as far as approval or denial,” said Lt. David Waters with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
The same holds true in Cumming, city administrator Gerald Blackburn said.
“We don’t issue permits … but we don’t tell them they can’t [collect money],” he said.
State law, Waters said, does address “solicitation,” but that covers “prostitution, things like that.”
“It does not cover any type of soliciting money on the roadway at an intersection,” he said.
Teri Pope with the Georgia Department of Transportation confirmed that the agency doesn’t get involved with fundraising at intersections.
“We don’t have any enforcement capabilities and we don’t have any real regulations against it,” she said.
“If you’re doing work in the right of way, like picking up trash, then we have a permitting process for that. [But as for collecting money], that’s like saying you have to have a permit to be a pedestrian to use the right of way. So we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Waters said state law does allow law enforcement officials to take action if those collecting money are causing traffic problems.
“If it was a safety issue to where, you know, it was a high [volume] area where a lot of accidents occurred and we had somebody standing in the middle of the road, then obviously we could remove them for impeding the flow of traffic,” he said.
Likewise, Waters said, if there were suspicions of fraud, deputies could press charges.
“Suppose if somebody was out there fraudulently advertising a company’s name like they were doing a charity drive or something for that company and in fact they were not and they were just doing it on their own and pocketing the money, then obviously that would be a fraudulent offense and we would arrest for that.”
As for the failed attempt at creating a county ordinance to address intersection fundraising, Commissioner Todd Levent said the move “didn’t get any traction.”
“The board couldn’t find a way to write that correctly without excluding things like the burn boot drive that the [Forsyth County Fire Department] does and such,” he said. “I think there’s probably a way to get there and we probably ought to do it … maybe we’ll revisit it again.”
Waters said Sheriff Duane Piper, who took office in January, may look into the issue and suggest something to commissioners.
“The county enforcement here as far as solicitation has to do with residences, neighborhoods,” Waters said. “It has nothing to do with roadways in Forsyth County.
“It’s [about going] door to door and that’s where the county could actually amend the ordinance to give some protection to the roadways.”
In the meantime, Pope, the DOT spokeswoman, advised drivers to “use extreme caution” when they see solicitors at intersections.
“Especially if you’re going to get their attention and give them money, it can be dangerous for you and that person, as well as with aggressive drivers that we have … if somebody behind you gets mad that you’re talking to the person or giving them money and they blow their horn and go around you,” she said.
“So from an aggressive driver prospective, and even a distracted driver prospective if you’re not paying good attention, it could be a safety issue.”