‘Not a hard decision’


This map shows the general areas, outlined in red, where level-three predatory offenders are not allowed to live in Inver Grove Heights, based on a recently passed buffer zone ordinance. submitted graphic

Inver Grove Heights residents turn out for final reading of sex offender ordinance.

 

In a packed council chambers Sept. 25, Inver Grove Heights Mayor George Tourville banged his gavel to try to bring order back to the meeting. 

Tensions were running high among residents as they spoke and pleaded with the city council to approve a new permanent predatory offender residency ordinance that left out one key exception.

The exception in question? Allowing level-three offenders to live within a 1,000 foot radius of places like schools and child-care centers if they live with an immediate family member. 

The permanent ordinance was to replace a temporary ordinance passed last year, which was set to expire on Sept. 26.

Bridget Nason, assistant city attorney, said at an Aug. 28 meeting the permanent ordinance is essentially the same as the interim one in relation to distance restrictions put on predatory offenders. 

The ordinance would establish a 1,000 foot “buffer zone” around establishments where children are likely to be. Nason said this includes libraries, licensed child-care centers, schools, public parks and religious facilities that have designated areas for children to play, or programs like Sunday school. 

The council was considering two ordinances on Sept. 25: one with the family member exemption, and one without. After impassioned testimony from a number of community members, the council unanimously passed the ordinance without the exception.

 

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Residents speak out

Carol Halloran was the first resident to speak out, asking the council to not allow the exception to pass. 

“I wanted to come tonight because I am a victim of molestation by my older brother. It didn’t matter that I lived with my mother and my father, and that he was placed back in the home with me and it happened again,” she said. Halloran added that just because an offender lives with a family member does not mean that he or she won’t reoffend. 

Halloran, who is part of a military family, said every time they move she gravitates toward places like child-care centers or schools, because most cities have residency restrictions and predatory offenders are prohibted from living near such places.

“Those people served their time and then they get out and [it’s] people like you that want to give them a second chance. That’s a luxury I don’t have. Why should they?” she asked.

Gina Groth started a petition against the exception that had more than 600 signatures by the start of the council meeting. She said that after attending the Sept. 11 meeting, where the council discussed the family member exception, she was “extremely disappointed and disgusted that anybody would support these predatory offenders, [and not] protecting our innocent children first.”

Groth said she supports parents educating their children on how to be safe, but it is the job of parents and the community to keep children safe.

Several other residents spoke out against the exemption, including a former police officer and parents. 

Shawn Buck has a daughter in middle school and a 10-year-old son.

His daughter walks home from the bus stop by herself and his son bikes to school. If the exception passed, he said he wouldn’t be able to let either of them do so.

“My son now rides his bike home from school, and the pride on his face, his newfound freedom as he’s riding home is priceless. He’s 10 years old. I couldn’t bear to tell him ‘I’m sorry. I can’t let you do this anymore,’” Buck said.
 

Why a family exception?

Both versions of the ordinance presented to the council included certain exceptions. At the Sept. 25 meeting, Nason said the exceptions to the buffer zone include those who lived at their residence before the ordinance was enacted, those who are minors or those who live in a location than had a protected use move in nearby.

Nason said a number of cities around the state have adopted similar ordinances, and four of the six major cities in Dakota County have family member exceptions.

Council member Rosemary Piekarski Krech said at the council’s Aug. 28 meeting, the first reading of the ordinance, that she has heard that an offender is more likely to reoffend if they don’t have a stable living environment. 

Her concern was that if an offender’s family member lives within the buffer zone and the offender isn’t allowed to live there, they may not have that stable living environment. 

Information regarding the possible family member exception was brought to the council at the Sept. 11 meeting. At the meeting, city attorney Tim Kuntz said that family would be defined as parents, grandparents, siblings and spouses. 

 

Council approves one

Following public comment at the Sept. 25 meeting, Tourville said council members asked for the language pertaining to the family member exception so they could make an educated decision.

“To say that our feet are in cement and we’ve already made up our mind couldn’t be anything further from the truth,” he said.

Piekarski Krech said she understood people’s fears and that she herself has the same fears. However, she said, if there is no family member exception in the ordinance and its challenged in court, the whole ordinance could be struck down, allowing predatory offenders to live anywhere in Inver Grove Heights.

“We can approve the ordinance with no exceptions, but I don’t want you to have the false sense of security that means your children are safe,” she said. Her statement was met with outbursts from the crowd, leading Tourville to retain order. 

Council member Paul Hark made a motion to accept the ordinance without the family member exemption. It was seconded by council member Tom Bartholomew.

Hark said it’s unknown how courts would interpret such an ordinance, though he predicted at some point the courts will address the issue.

Tourville said if there were a lawsuit, the city would deal with it when it comes. He thinks it is safer to have no exception.

The ordinance without the family exemption passed unanimously, and was met by applause.

Howard Franson, the former police officer, said he knows the rates of recidivism of people convicted of sex crimes and that buffer zones make sense.

“In my opinion, it was a no brainer. It was an easy decision for them to make,” he said. “They should have passed this along time ago.”

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

 

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