Proposed shopping cart ordinance deferred again

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
Courtesy photo

Shawnee City Commissioners are struggling to work through the particulars of a proposed ordinance regarding shopping carts.

The item was first discussed at a commission meeting the first week of September, then again on the 20th and was deferred, and was discussed at-length again this week — only to be deferred again.

Interim City Manager Eric Benson said the logic behind the recommended addition to city code is to afford Shawnee Police Department (SPD) officers an avenue for managing the trafficking of shopping carts.

In an attempt to address a blossoming problem in the community — one the commission expressed as a priority, Benson said, he examined other cities and their mechanisms for handling the issue of shopping carts being used all over the community for things other than their intended use.

“We do have a problem with the transport of materials to or from our community; I've received more than a few complaints about it,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to enforce the misuse of those items.”

Benson said without the ordinance there currently is no means to investigate if carts are stolen property.

He said there is currently no authorization on the local level for police to examine — much less, possess — those carts.

“This gives us the mechanism to ask that question,” he said.

By definition, according to the ordinance, it would mean shopping carts can't be used for any other reason, he said.

“I have mixed emotions about this,” Mayor Ed Bolt said.

Ward 3 City Commissioner Travis Flood asked how the proposed misdemeanor-level penalty would affect offenders.

City Attorney Joe Vorndran said it would leave it up to the discretion of a judge in issuing a citation.

Two components of the original draft of the ordinance are that: (1) if a police officer determined to issue a citation, it would result in a fine; and (2) the primary function is the ability to confiscate the cart and return it to the rightful owner, which he said the city does not currently have the ability to do.

Ward 1 City Commissioner Daniel Matthews questioned what the protocol would be for a cart that's full of stuff.

“You show up to repossess, what happens to the stuff?” he asked. “If we just dump it on the street, we've made the problem worse.”

Vorndran said he didn't think the ordinance, as drafted, directly answers that question.

“I think it really boils down to officer discretion,” he said.

Benson said if an officer sees a shopping cart — or 10 — in a back yard, currently there is no mechanism for the officer to gain entry to ask that question.

“This (ordinance) gives them that discretion,” he said. “We're trying to answer the larger question, about how we manage this issue; we're not suggesting we want to make criminals out of those who are less fortunate.”

But, he said, there are those who take advantage of the use of shopping carts.

An earlier draft of the ordinance would have placed some responsibility — and liability — on store owners of carts that were found off-site. That portion was removed in this week's version of the proposal.

Matthews suggested adding wording to the ordinance that would allow voluntary surrender of a shopping cart in question, as an alternative to a citation.

“I think we tie up a lot of time in the court system,” he said. “I'm all for giving the police a tool, but … where does that red tape end?”

Bolt said he is concerned about unintended consequences regarding the ordinance.

Most of the board remained unsatisfied about proceeding with any action yet regarding the proposal, though Ward 5 City Commissioner Mark Sehorn voted no on a second deferment. The item was deferred with commissioners voting 5-1.

Watch for updates.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.