Reinterpretation of Panhandling Rule Bans Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, and Others

Xenia, Ohio (TFC) – Virgil Vaduva, journalist for The Fifth Column and The Greene County Herald, was found guilty today of panhandling after prosecutor Ron Lewis refused to acknowledge a plain reading of the statute and successfully argued to, in effect, ban all public fundraising in the city. Vaduva has a record of questioning the city government of Xenia in his articles for the Herald.

A plain reading of the statute makes it clear that the money being solicited must be for personal use. Vaduva was collecting money for charity, so the panhandling ordinance did not apply.

The city’s definition of panhandling reads:

“ PANHANDLING.   To request verbally, in writing, or by gesture or other actions, money, items of value, a donation, or other personal financial assistance. Further, PANHANDLING shall include any request for a person to purchase an item for an amount that a reasonable person would consider to be in excess of its value.”

As clearly indicated by the presence of the word “other” in the sentence, anything solicited must be for “personal financial assistance.” The prosecutor successfully argued that a “donation” didn’t have to be personally used.

What does the mean for the city of Xenia?

Unless the city plans to admit that this case was simply attacking a journalist critical of their government, the rule must now be applied to all charities soliciting donations in places outlined in the rule. The city council’s war on the homeless and poor created a rule that was so encompassing that it now effectively bans raising money for charity anywhere in the city. Below is a list of just some of the prohibitions, and the effect of the new application of the law.

(4)   From any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle or from any person entering or exiting a motor vehicle;

Firefighters often “pass the boot” at stop lights to raise money for different causes but primarily for the MDA. Sorry children with Muscular Dystrophy, Xenia doesn’t care about you.

(7)   Within 20 feet of any entrance or exit of the building for any check cashing business, bank, credit union, or savings and loan during the hours of operation of any of these businesses;

United States Marines often collect “Toys for Tots” at banks across the country. Xenia has become the Grinch that Stole Christmas from these children.

 (12)   Within 20 feet of the area of the sidewalk;

The Boy Scouts of America often sell popcorn far in excess of its value to support their activities. Sorry Tiger Cubs, you need to find another way to finance the jamboree.

(13)   Within 20 feet of the entrance or exit of any public facility

One of those in the juror pool worked at the library. The Friends of the Library can no longer solicit funds.

(14)   On public property within 20 feet of an entrance to a building;

The bell ringers of the Salvation Army that operate on the sidewalks of Downtown Xenia in front of the various shops are no longer welcome in Xenia.

Vaduva goal in testing the panhandling law was to help end the Xenia's war on the homeless. He might have lost the court case, but he's won the fight over the rule targeting the poor by placing the city in a no-win situation. Image Source: Justin King

Vaduva’s goal in testing the panhandling law was to help end Xenia’s war on the homeless. He might have lost the court case, but he’s won the fight over the rule targeting the poor by placing the city in a no-win situation.
Image Source: Justin King

If the Xenia Police Department fails to equally apply the law or the prosecutor fails to equally prosecute the cases, the city opens itself up to a lawsuit of almost immeasurable proportions because it would be a clear admission that the city specifically targeted Vaduva in an effort to suppress his First Amendment rights. Interestingly enough, the Judge disallowed any mention of the First Amendment during the trial… twice. The judge can longer throw out the verdict of the jury, even though they weren’t properly informed. Vaduva is facing 30 days in jail for collecting about 40 dollars for UVS.

Xenia has no option but to enforce the law equally against all charities, until the city council can repeal its rule. Voters of Xenia should remember the current council members are responsible for children going without toys or assistance with Muscular Dystrophy during the next election. Don’t let them state that they aren’t responsible. They are. They made the rule as part of the war on the homeless, they are fully responsible for its impact.