December 2, 2015

Sex offender residency restrictions passed, but with family exception

12-2-15 Minnesota:

BIRCHWOOD — Sex offenders now can't live alone next to a city park. They can, however, move in with family.

At an emergency meeting Nov. 24, the Birchwood City Council adopted an ordinance banning sex offenders from living near a park or day care. But the ordinance includes multiple exemptions, including for offenders who reside with relatives.

News that a Level 3 sex offender planned to move across from city tennis courts on Cedar Street spurred two council meetings in less than a week. Many residents hoped the council would adopt an ordinance that would block Joseph Charles Zacher from moving in after his Nov. 30 release from prison. A few residents and the city attorney opposed such restrictions, calling them hastily developed, ineffective and/or a litigation risk.

The three council members present at the Nov. 24 meeting adopted an ordinance, but not one that might have impeded Zacher's move. The council passed restrictions that mirror the ones in place in a handful of other Minnesota communities.

All the other residency restriction ordinances exempt sex offenders who live with family. The Birchwood councilmen — Randy LaFoy, Bill Hullsiek and Mark Anderson — weren't willing to deviate from that norm. They worried that having an ordinance unlike the others would enhance the city's risk of being sued by someone wanting to challenge the constitutionality of residency restrictions. Mayor Mary Wingfield wasn't present at either meeting but sent a statement read by the city administrator at the Nov. 24 meeting strongly admonishing the prospective unique ordinance as the product of a “flawed and tortured” process that would “expose the city to great risk with only the illusion of protecting our children.”

Resident Megan Malvey asked the council to take the risk, noting that insurance would limit the city's legal cost liability. No parents will allow their children to use the tennis courts if Zacher lives nearby, she predicted.

Even if the council had adopted an ordinance without a family exemption, Zacher still might have moved into the neighborhood. The city attorney told the council on Nov. 22 that Zacher or the Department of Corrections could argue that Zacher was already legally a resident and therefore no new ordinance would apply to him. ..Continued.. by Kristine Goodrich

No comments: