Whitehall News

Retailers on notice

After initial delay, shopping-cart vote likely April 2

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Whitehall City Council likely will vote on a shopping-cart ordinance April 2.

The ordinance is scheduled for a third and final reading at the next regularly scheduled meeting of Whitehall City Council, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.

In an effort to deter the abandonment of shopping carts on city streets, city officials proposed the ordinance that would make private possession of a shopping cart a minor misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $150 fine.

The legislation goes a step further by holding retailers culpable for not properly securing shopping carts or keeping parking lots clear of them.

Whitehall council members were set to enact the ordinance March 19, but at the request of the administration, members tabled it until the April 2 meeting.

The decision was not unanimous. In a 4-3 vote, members tabled the ordinance.

Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard and service director Ray Ogden said they sought the postponement to allow retailers to provide further suggestions concerning the legislation, but some council members opined that retailers had due notice.

"These businesses had ample time but waited until the 11th hour," Ward 1 Councilman Chris Rodriguez said March 19. "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 had become aware of the proposed ordinance Feb. 20 in a letter from the city, sent after the ordinance was introduced at 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. Siekmann did not return a call from ThisWeek Whitehall News concerning the legislation.

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 10 Whitehall retailers in February.

"We will listen to (the retailers), 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."

Removal of carts always has been considered a theft, Ogden said, but retailers typically don't file reports, so city officials simply impounded abandoned carts, almost all with marks identifying the owner. The city has collected more than 100 carts since late last year, and none has been claimed, he said. The city charges $20 to release impounded carts.

The new ordinance would require retailers to place signs, in English and in 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 prescribed 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-premises 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.

In other action March 19,, council approved legislation authorizing Maggard to contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation for the replacement of a bridge on Elm Street; appointing Police Chief Richard Zitzke to the Central Ohio Transit Authority Board of Trustees; and transferring $7,000 from the general fund to the economic development fund.

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