At tonight’s Newport City Council meeting, Councilor John Florez’s controversial panhandling ordinance was introduced, then amended, then debated and finally withdrawn.
After what was already a long, confusing and fiery Newport City Council meeting, Florez introduced his original proposal and resolution (seen below) and immediately introduced an amended version to it.
Pretty much removing all the language in the ordinance, the new ordinance and resolution stated that signs would be placed around the city encouraging passerby’s to give to organizations that help panhandlers.
Florez discussed that his ordinances on panhandling came from a place of compassion, his relationship with poverty in his childhood and how he funds a meal program for those in need in the community.
There was some discussion among the City Councilor’s (Councilor Neville and Councilor McLaughlin) that they never saw this new ordinance and resolution that was introduced. Neville would later say that her and Florez had talked on the phone about the new ordinance and resolution but that she had not received a hard copy.
The long discussion than began with Councilor Ceglie chiming in that she would be for the sign program but wanted “panhandlers” removed from the sign and to make it more broad to help all those who need help within our community.
The meeting got quite interesting when Councilor Florez and Mayor Napolitano argued with each other when Napolitano mentioned that she asked him to withdraw the resolution and introduce a new one, “this is the fifth or so version, it’s too confusing”.
Florez then said he had spoke with Napolitano earlier in the day and that she had told him that she would support his new resolution and ordinance, “you’re now waffling”, Florez said to Napolitano.
The new ordinance and resolution was defeated by a vote of 3-4 with Councilor Florez, Leonard and Camacho voting in favor of.
Keith Taveres from Child and Family were among those who spoke from the community, Taveres spoke about how he would not advocate for the word panhandling to be used and also shared his disappointment that Councilor Florez, who was supposed to be a City Liason at the partnership meetings, had not been at a meeting in quite a while.
Councilor Florez then stated that he had told the Mayor that he would not be attending them and she responded with “you said that about School Committee”.
The meeting really hit home for two attendees in the audience, two gentlemen spoke to the City Council and discussed how they were both homeless and how difficult it is to get services in Newport.
One man stated he was clean of drugs and alcohol and was on the streets because of the housing system, he shared examples of how the system and resources in the community weren’t able to help him.
The other gentleman discussed how he did have mental, drug and alcohol problems, “often times I sleep right here on the steps of city hall”, he said. The Mayor acknowledged that she had come across him before on the steps. He stated that he goes to the places and resources that the City Council keeps saying can help those in need, but can’t get the help he needs.
Both men discussed how discouraging it was to see the Council bicker and argue throughout the night.
The original and new ordinance and resolution were eventually withdrawn from the meeting. Councilor Florez, Ceglie and Camacho will re-introduce a signage ordinance at an upcoming meeting.
After the entire meeting closed, several words were exchanged between Mayor Napolitano and Councilor Florez, with Florez calling Napolitano a poor leader and Napolitano saying to Florez -“all you care about is yourself and how much money you give to this and that”.
How We Got To Here
Councilor John Florez’s original proposed Panhandling Ordinance was called inappropriate from both a legal and policy perspective, according to Steven Brown Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island.
Brown sent a letter regarding directed to Chris Behan, City Solicitor of Newport, last week regarding the proposed panhandling ordinance. All seven members of Newport City Council received a copy of the letter at their home, City Manager Joe Nicholson and Police Chief Gary Silva also received a copy. The letter supports the ACLU’s opinion that we reported back in September regarding the introduction of the proposed panhandling ordinance
Original Proposed Resolution and Ordinance
More Coverage From Last Night’s Meeting