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Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:19

Drawing the line between panhandling and charity at Franklin’s intersections

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A group of folks allegedly raising funds on behalf of an out-of-state church have sparked complaints and questions from Franklin residents puzzled, and sometimes troubled, by the troupe’s origin and tactics.

 

The group in question can be found periodically at a busy intersections in town wearing traffic vests and soliciting donations for a charitable cause. They approach motorists stopped momentarily at the red lights at busy intersections with five gallon buckets asking for spare change or bills to help the needy.

Although their approach must be successful enough to prompt them to return time and time again, reports vary as to where they’re actually from. While some motorists have questioned the fundraisers, the answers they have received are apparently divergent.

“We were told some of the folks were from some church in Virginia,” said Alderman Billy Mashburn. “Then someone said they thought they were from South Carolina.”

Other second-hand accounts cite Florida and Kentucky.

Their presence sparked numerous phone calls to town hall and pushed some Franklin leaders to take up the issue.

While the town regulates certain fund-raising activities, there are exceptions for charitable causes and endeavors by certain organizations and faith-based groups.

However, at a town meeting last week, leaders discussed apparent loopholes and how they could change or better enforce the ordinance.

Vice Mayor Verlin Curtis said he suspects the group is well versed in the local laws of the region and perhaps travels around to towns that don’t require special permits and temporarily sets up shop to collect money.

 “They could be a traveling outfit,” Curtis said. “I would submit that’s what they’re doing. But I don’t know how many towns they go to.”

Curtis said requiring some sort of permit seven days in advance of conducting an organized fund-raiser in public would deter any sort of abuse. Also if the group were to apply for a permit, it would allow the town to find out who the group is and if it’s charitable cause is legitimate. However, Curtis guessed the solicitors would just stop coming back, ending what has been more than a year of fund-raising visits from the mysterious group.

But whoever they are, with their makeshift collection buckets and handwritten signs, Curtis acknowledges their dedication.

“Last time, it was pouring rain, and they were out there in the middle of the street,” Curtis said. “Even out there in the pouring rain.”

Curtis said the town lawyer is looking into possible solutions, and the issue has been tabled until the board’s June meeting. But some lawmakers feared a blanket solution — such as enforcing a ban on solicitation at intersections or requiring permits — would likewise hinder the ability of local groups to raise money.

“When you get into something like this and start doing regulations, you might cut out somebody who is collecting for Shriner’s or Boy Scouts,” said Alderman Carolyn Pattillo. “It’s a delicate situation in a way.”

Pattillo said she passes by them when she sees the solicitors of unknown origin and doesn’t stop to interact with them. Nevertheless, she doesn’t judge others who contribute money.

“That’s a privilege,” Pittillo said. “If someone wants to give them money, that’s their business.”

So as long as the handful of fundraisers say they’re with a church working for a charitable cause and they have taken proper traffic safety precautions, Franklin Police Chief David Adams’ investigation is thwarted. He said under current language of the town ordinance, the door is left open for any determined fundraiser, no matter what the motive.

“We don’t really have anything to stop them,” Adams said. “You could go up there with a bucket and throw on a traffic vest.”

However, he said the group of solicitors is not a problem in his eyes and isn’t very high on his unsolved cases’ list. In general, Franklin rarely has a problem with panhandlers — if that’s indeed what the organized syndicate of out-of-town fundraisers are — apart from the occasional intoxicated local asking for spare change. In that instance, swift action is taken.

“You might have a wino who asks for money in front of Ingles or a convenience store.” Adams said. “And we ask them to leave or something like that.”

Adams said the group’s presence amounts to a nuisance for some people at most, and at the very least provides an insight into the passerby who toss some change or a dollar bill into the buckets.

“One thing I noticed, the people of Macon County are very generous,” Adams said. “Or they wouldn’t keep coming back every month.”

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