Council nixes sex offender ordinance, passes motion to educate public

Nick Glunt

Kent City Council voted Wednesday to create a taskforce for the exploration of educating Kent residents about local sex offenders.

The motion, suggested by Ward 1 Councilman Garret Ferrara, passed with a 5-4 vote. The taskforce will include the Safety Department, the city administration and the Kent Board of Education.

The close vote followed a lengthy discussion on a proposed ordinance by Planning Commissioner Anthony Catalano that would restrict where registered sex offenders could live within city limits.

The ordinance would have restricted sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of locations where children would likely gather. Locations would have included schools, daycares, parks, libraries, arcades and more.

Ohio law states that registered Tier 3 sex offenders must provide their locations to residents within 1,000 feet of their homes, local law enforcement and local schools and daycares.

City council largely showed apprehension toward the proposed ordinance.

Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson said the city would be responsible for legal and jail fees if an ordinance was passed.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Amrhein said he was uneasy because the ordinance would abridge the constitutional rights of local sex offenders.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Tracy Wallach expressed concerns about the specificity in the proposal. She asked if the proposed ordinance would affect all sex offenders or just sex offenders who had victimized children. She also asked if it would limit sex offenders from entering or loitering near the safe zones, too.

“The general idea might be that the more restrictive, the better,” Catalano said. “That would make everything more safe, but … we need to operate within the law and not make ourselves at risk for a lawsuit.”

Police Chief Michelle Lee presented research that she said shows the proposed ordinance would create a “false sense of security.” She also said it would be very hard to enforce.

“Once the ordinance is enacted, we (wouldn’t) have to worry about (sex offenders) anymore, and (the residents) would put their guards down,” Lee said, “and that’s an unfortunate part of it.”

Lee said she, Safety Director Bill Lillich and Law Director Jim Silver came to the conclusion that state and federal mandates already do enough to limit sex offenders.

State and federal laws require sex offenders to register and to alert the government when they move.

The Ohio attorney general’s website provides the addresses of sex offenders throughout Ohio. Any person can view the work and home addresses of sex offenders up to two miles from any location, such as their own homes or their children’s schools.

For these reasons, Lee said the proposed ordinance may be “counterproductive.” She also said some of her research suggested that sex offenders may go “off the grid” by not providing their addresses if their communities become more restrictive.

“We were trying to create a framework,” Catalano said in defense of his proposition. “And to let council use its discretion and say, ‘This may be appropriate, this may not be appropriate.’”

Contact Nick Glunt at [email protected].