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Here’s what commissioners had to say about panhandlers in the county
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Forsyth County Commissioners recently discussed possible amendments to the county’s solicitation ordinance, talking about panhandling in particular.

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she wanted to put it on the commissioners’ agenda at the Jan. 24 work session because she had recently been informed of a panhandling situation at the Walmart off Browns Bridge Road in the Coal Mountain area.

According to Mills, the team at Walmart reached out to her with a “pretty big panhandling issue” where customers “were feeling threatened” by people that “were very aggressive in their panhandling.”

Mills said Chairman Alfred John, who was absent from the work session, had mentioned having similar issues in his District 2, and she asked County Attorney Ken Jarrard what could be done to prevent problems in the future.

Jarrard said possible amendments to the county’s solicitation ordinance could affect fundraisers for nonprofits, such as the Cumming Shrine Club.

District 3’s Todd Levent asked how the board could handle panhandlers who walk between cars and up to drivers’ windows to ask for money on the roads and at highway exits.

Levent said he was concerned about the “safety hazard” this posed, and he mentioned he’d personally seen Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars drive past panhandlers in the roads without issuing warnings or citations.

Jarrard said state law prohibits right-of-way obstruction, but there was a difference between state law and the ability to enforce it.

Another problem Jarrard mentioned is that officers often use discretion to differentiate between traditional panhandlers and fundraisers.

“That’s a hard one for law enforcement or any regulatory authority to divine when is it good versus when is it not so good,” Jarrard said. “It’s a tough distinction to explain.”

Capt. Doug Rainwater with the sheriff’s office said officers did not allow panhandlers to walk between traffic, but it was a “very fine line” for each deputy  to determine if a panhandler is part of a fundraiser, a Girl Scout selling cookies or someone from out of the county asking for money “for nothing in return.”

District 5’s Laura Semanson asked about a permitting process for fundraising organizations so background checks could be done on individuals.

However, Levent insisted the major issue was rooted in panhandlers crossing into the roads and walking between cars. If a car were to accidentally hit someone stepping into traffic, the driver would be at fault, Levent said.

After discussion, commissioners concluded to ask if Sheriff Ron Freeman would consider some kind of memorandum amongst deputies and to “actually take action” to enforce state laws when panhandlers are standing and walking between cars on the road.

Commissioners were open to Freeman returning to the board to discuss enforcement options or results.