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City officials to re-evaluate skateboarding ordinance

BUCKHANNON – City officials will review an ordinance banning skateboarding throughout large sections of the City of Buckhannon following a request from a city resident.

At council’s Thursday, Aug. 20 meeting, resident Melissa Daugherty requested that Ordinance 268 of the City of Buckhannon be reviewed and possibly revised so that skateboarding is no longer a misdemeanor in city limits.

Ordinance 268, which was passed May 19, 1994 when Tony Gum was mayor, prohibits the “riding, operating or otherwise utilizing of skateboards or other similar devices” within three commercial districts in the city: C-1, or the Central Commercial District; C-2, or the Highway Commercial District; and C-3 or the Neighborhood Commercial District.

The law also calls for the ban of “skateboards, exclusively … upon and within any street, road, alleyway, sidewalk, public parking lot, park or other noncommercially situated” city-owned, government-owned or publicly owned/leased property.

The penalty for a conviction of violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor and a fine ranging between $10 and $500 plus court costs and possibly up to 30 days in jail, at the discretion of the municipal judge.

The ordinance notes an earlier city law, still in effect today, that bans bicycle riding on sidewalks in the downtown area. Ordinance 268 identifies “other similar recreational devices, implements and vehicles” as primarily roller skates and rollerblades.

The ordinances cites “numerous incidents and complaints” regarding public safety concerns and property damage.

At Thursday’s meeting, Daugherty said perceptions and realities surrounding skateboarding have changed since the 90s and she was bothered by the idea that skateboarding could be penalized as a misdemeanor.

“I would just like for it to be reviewed and possibly ended to where skateboarding it not illegal,” Daugherty said, via teleconference. “Times have changed a lot since the ‘90s with internet and technology, and I think [skateboarding] could be a good, healthy outlet for our youth who are looking for things to do around here.”

Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory said the “Skateboard Operation” ordinance has been on the books since the mid-1990s, but officers use discretion regarding potential violations and citations.

“I cannot recall when the last skateboarding citation was issued or skateboard was seized,” Gregory said at the Aug. 20 meeting. “At the time, it was the common practice to take the skateboard and hold it in the evidence room and release it when the fine was paid. We’re always looking for ways not to clutter our evidence room, so skateboards being in there hasn’t been in issue for a long time.”

“We do try to use a lot of discretion with these types of ordinances,” the police chief added. “I’ve seen kids on a number of occasions riding their skateboard down the side of road, and they weren’t harming anybody; they were just enjoying the day, so I left them alone. Personally, I think that’s been the case over the years. I just can’t recall last time a skateboard was seized.”

Daugherty said the fact that discretion needed to be used regarding the ordinance raised a central question about its existence.

“If that’s the case, then why does it need to be there at all?” she asked. “I don’t like the criminal aspect of it.”

Daugherty said criminalizing skateboarding could damage a potentially productive relationship between youth and police officers.

“My fear is that they’re not going to feel like they can talk [to police] about potential information regarding drugs or sexual abuse if they’re riding a skateboard if they’re afraid their skateboard is going to be taken away,” Daugherty said.

Councilman Dave Thomas said council should evaluate Ordinance 268.

“Let’s look at this, review it and if we need to modify it, let’s do it,” he said.

Mayor Robbie Skinner told Daugherty the ordinance couldn’t simply be invalidated.

“Due process must be followed,” he said. “We can’t just eliminate it; according to state code, it has to be modified, added to, or totally replaced. We can’t solve the problem tonight, but we’ll take a look at the language, and we’ll work within the community and work amongst ourselves with council and the police chief. Maybe we can come up with some modified language that would perhaps update it.”

Daugherty thanked council for hearing her concerns.

On Monday, Skinner said it’s likely the language needs updated.

“Generally speaking, municipal governments cannot simply do away with ordinances,” he said. “We can add, subtract, and/or modify language, or we could replace an ordinance entirely, but we cannot just delete it. With that being said, I believe our council is open to reviewing the current language to see if modifications could be made to modernize the language.”

“Just to give you an idea, I was in kindergarten at Academy Primary School when this ordinance was passed, and now I’m in my early thirties,” he added. “Times have changed, and I believe there might be some room for improvement.”

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