City Councilors Bang Heads on Controversial Sex Offender Ordinance
An attempt to vote a proposed ordinance out of committee was shot down.
An Attleboro City Council Committee meeting on Tuesday became a heated debate between two councilors who did not see eye-to-eye on a proposed child safety ordinance.
City Councilor Cherie Felos, who as chairwoman was leading the Committee on Ordinances, Elections and Legislative Matters, was questioned by other members for her motion to call for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance banning Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from entering any child safety zone.
A child safety zone includes a park, playground, recreation center, library, school, day care center, video arcade, swimming pool or wading pool, gymnasium, sports field, or sports facility, including the parking area and grounds appurtenant to any of the facilities. The zone also includes school or camp bus stops, which are owned or controlled by any department, agency or authority of the city of Attleboro, including but not limited to the Attleboro School Department, or leased by the city of Attleboro to another person.
At the center of the debate was a change in the proposed ordinance, which removed Level 2 offenders from the language. Council Duff White said the proposed ordinance "was a good discussion that was abruptly cut off," during a previous meeting.
"As you know I am adamantly opposed to this moving forward without Level 2 included," White told Felos. "There is further discussion that needs to take place on this ordinance before it comes out."
Felos, however, argued that individuals have been labeled as Level 2 offenders for minor crimes including public urination and consensual sex between two young individuals.
"After Officer Boisse and Acting Chief Heagney were here, I did go up and checked with them and urinating in public…it is a citation, but for someone pulling over on 95 or side of county street it is not a Level 2 offense," White said. In the same breath, White said urinating in public near a school or a park where there are children would make it a Level 2 offense.
"Let's say you get plastered with your buddies and urinate on the side of the road," Felos said after the meeting. "If you are near a school yard that makes a difference if you are (labeled) a sexual offender or just ticketed.
"A young man sleeps with a 16-year-old and is later prosecuted as a Level 2 offender — he is not a predator," Felos added. "The devil is in the details."
Eliminating Level 2 will not change the legality of the ordinance, according to Felos. In fact, it will increase the potential for a solid case.
"Adding another exception makes it less restrictive," she said. "It certainly wouldn’t change the legality and would make it easier to defend it."
The disagreement in policy pushed the two councilors to argue. Felos told White he was rude and unprofessional. When White asked if he could continue he was shot down by Felos who said he was done. White then replied with "I'm writing a Letter to the Editor."
Council President Frank Cook was concerned with voting on a motion to schedule a public hearing because the final draft of the ordinance was verbally OKed by the city solicitor in a conversation with Felos, but was not put in writing.
Cook cited a situation where because the committee did not do its due diligence with an ordinance the council had to call for a public hearing not one, two, but three times.
"We violated the city charter and state law," Cook said.
The motion was withdrawn.