Whitehall will give area retailers two weeks to provide suggestions to prevent the theft and abandonment of shopping carts in the city.
Whitehall City Council, in a divided decision, granted the additional time at the request of city service director Ray Ogden and Mayor Kim Maggard.
Ina 4-3 vote March 19, council members tabled an ordinance that would make unlawful possession of a shopping cart a minor misdemeanor and would hold retailers liable for not executing due diligence to monitor and secure shopping carts.
The ordinance was tabled until the April 2 council meeting, but three dissenting members were ready to enact the ordinance March 19.
“These businesses had ample time but waited until the 11th hour," Ward 1 Councilman Chris Rodriguez said. "I don’t see a need to drag this out, but we will have the discussion and see where it goes."
Rodriguez, Ward 3 Councilman Leo Knoblauch and at-large Councilman Robert Bailey opposed tabling the ordinance. Ward 2 Councilman Wes Kantor, Ward 4 Councilman Van Gregg and at-large council members Karen Conison and Leslie LaCorte voted in favor of the postponement.
“I asked for it to be tabled because I think it is in the best interest to hear what (retailers) have to say," Maggard said. "I’m disappointed they waited until the 11th hour, but I want to be reasonable to our business community.”
Ogden received a March 15 letter from Jackie Siekmann, media- and government-relations manager for Kroger, seeking a postponement.
Siekmann said the company first became aware of the proposed ordinance Feb. 20 in a letter from the city that had been sent after the ordinance was introduced during the Feb. 19 council meeting.
“We plan to attend the meeting (March 19) to voice our concerns with this ordinance, but we respectfully ask that you table the vote so we can have further discussions,” Siekmann wrote.
No representative from Kroger addressed council during the March 19 meeting.
After the meeting, Kantor said Kroger's absence was frustrating.
In the letter, the Kroger official wrote that the proposed ordinance “would criminalize our business when we are the victims of theft.”
The company wrote that employees regularly retrieve carts and a third-party collects carts from nearby areas.
Ogden said only Kroger responded to the city after letters were sent to some Whitehall retailers in February.
“We will listen to them, but we also plan to move forward,” Ogden said.
The proposed ordinance is meant to rid the city of the blight that abandoned and off-premises shopping carts create in the city, Maggard said.
"It's a particular problem at bus stops," Ogden said, particularly along East Main Street, East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.
"You'd think (the retail stores) would not want to lose the carts, but that's not what we're seeing," Ogden said.
Removal of carts always has been considered a theft, Ogden said, but retailers did not file reports and city officials simply impounded abandoned carts, almost all with marks identifying the owner.
The city has collected more than 100 carts and none have been claimed.
The new ordinance would require retailers to place signs, in English and Spanish, advising customers that theft is a crime. It further requires retailers, when the store is closed, to place carts in a secure area.
Retailers must clear parking lots of all carts within one hour of closing and at proscribed times during daily operations, and each retailer must provide the city with the name of an individual responsible for management of shopping carts.
The ordinance stipulates that any private individual in possession of an off-premise shopping cart would be "considered prima-facie evidence of larceny or possession of stolen goods" unless a person has written permission.
A violation would be a minor misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum $150 fine, in addition to $65 in court costs, Ogden said.
As for retailers, the city would perform spot inspections, he said. If an officer determines a retailer has failed to comply with the law, the city would fine the business' appointed manager, in care of the business, he said.
"We don't intend to make a point out of charging retailers," Ogden said. "We hope they will make the effort to control shopping carts. But we want to keep our rights of way clear by whatever manner we need to."
The ordinance is modeled after a similar ordinance in Westlake, in northeastern Ohio, Ogden said.
One person spoke in favor of the ordinance.
New Albany resident Dianne Garrett, a former Whitehall resident, recounted an incident in which a shopping cart was left on her lawn the day she was preparing to put the house on the market.
Garrett said she called the cart’s owner, who never responded to pick up the cart.
“You’ve done a good job of getting rid of one blight at a time," Garrett said. "You make the rules, not the stores.”