MONMOUTH — In a 4-2 vote, Monmouth City Councilors on Jan. 21 approved changes to city codes regarding park hours, and trespass and exclusion from city property.
Councilors first discussed the changes during a Nov. 19, 2019, work session when Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan proposed them.
The added language to the trespass upon city property ordinance now “include(s) all city-owned or rented buildings and structures, or grounds of such buildings or structures, during the time when they are not open to the public.”
The exclusion ordinance was originally established to address and discourage criminal activity in parks, Tallan said. The ordinance changes expanded to include all city property.
In that discussion and those that have followed, Councilor Chris Lopez raised concerns about how the changes may affect people who are homeless.
Councilor Byron Shinkle said he sees the urgency to protect the city’s property, but that he understands Lopez’s concerns.
Councilor Laurel Sharmer repeatedly expressed concerns that the code changes may cause legal challenges because of a ruling in Boise, Idaho, that stated that ordinances banning sleeping outdoors were unconstitutional if the people it affects had no other options.
City attorney Lane Shetterly said Monmouth’s ordinance changes were not the same, and that he could make a valid argument for their constitutionality.
Because of the concerns raised by councilors, a section was added to the trespass ordinance.
The chief or a designee will report to council twice a year, or as directed by council, on the implementation and enforcement of the sections that were amended.
“There is additional language in the amended proposed ordinance,” said Chad Olsen, interim city manager, “where it does provide, on six-month intervals, for the police department to report back to the city council as you requested. I think that within one to two years, the council will find that the police chief — I’m going to give you an editorial on this one, that there’s not going to be anything to report.”
Olsen said officers are not going to “go out and arrest or cite or issue violations or misdemeanors for somebody that they find in the park. This is — 30 years of my experience — they will make contact and just inform them that there’s park hours. If somebody’s on other city property, it will be the same thing, they’re not going to issue a citation.”
Olsen said he supposed it could escalate.
“I asked the chief that today, when was the last time,” Olsen said. “He said checking with his staff, that’s been there for a while, once in the last 15 years where a contact escalated to something else.”
Olsen added that he thinks there are two issues the council is talking about.
“One is the protection of city property which includes grounds, buildings, and one is a social issue related to homelessness,” he said. “Believe me, I am very sympathetic to that issue. I’ve seen it in McMinnville, where I live. It’s been pretty robust there with camping on some of the sidewalks, and of course everyone hears about Salem.”
He said the trespass ordinance is just a tool the city needs to protect its property.
“How it gets applied is something that can be different, but in checking with the chief, you’re just not going to find misdemeanors being issued ... unless it escalates into something ... or the chief could find when he calls it in that they have an outstanding warrant or something like that,” Olsen said. “That could happen.”
Shinkle said he was concerned with how “broad and sweeping this type of ordinance might be.”
“I think I can reconcile my discomfort with the fact that we’re going to be getting constant information to see if this is too broad, too sweeping,” Shinkle said. “I trust the police department to use compassion and tact and their good judgment in their carrying out this.”
Lopez said he considered the changes about “setting the bounds around what is possible, not necessarily what will be done.”
Lopez and Sharmer voted against the changes.