With safety concerns having motivated Wichita firefighters to stop filling their boots for charity at intersections, the Wichita City Council shouldn’t need to pass a moratorium and create a committee to study the practice further, as per today’s agenda. It should ban in-street fundraising solicitations right away — and not look back.
As Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said, “Safety should be paramount.”
That fact got a little lost in last week’s lengthy council consideration of the issue, as council members pulled back from the Police Department’s recommended ban out of concern for the potential impact on the fundraising of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and other groups.
Their desire to seek some sort of compromise that won’t hurt charities is understandable and admirable. But the council’s top priority must be public safety, not what’s easier for charities trying to meet their fundraising goals.
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Eagle employees and other local media celebrities have participated in curbside fundraising in recent years to raise money for the United Way of the Plains. But it’s not being mean to good causes or sick kids to end such solicitation. It’s being responsive to citizens’ and law enforcement’s concerns and to common sense, which says it’s asking for trouble to let people walk along the median strips of high-traffic intersections trying to get drivers of passing 7,000-pound vehicles to stop and hand over cash. The 42 intersections where such fundraising is allowed include some that have five lanes of traffic and nearly 50,000 cars a day.
Mayor Carl Brewer said he witnessed kids running into intersections seeking donations. Council member Sue Schlapp said one solicitor stood in front of her vehicle.
It’s of further concern that so many of the groups increasingly taking advantage of the city’s issuance of a $30 fundraising permit are from out of state. That means these unfamiliar, unaccountable organizations — 15 of the 38 groups to have done such fundraising over the past decade — are taking advantage of Wichitans’ generosity, making this seem less like charity than organized panhandling.
Some groups flout the current rules requiring fundraisers to wear reflective shirts and display identifying signs, or ignore the prohibitions of knocking on car windows and using kids to solicit. Two groups have been reported as seeking donations at the same intersection at the same time.
If the council members feel bad about officially shooing charities away from the intersections, they can open city property and facilities to such fundraising, as City Manager Robert Layton suggested.
The lack of accidents caused by intersection fundraising may make the risk seem overblown. But the City Council shouldn’t push its luck by letting this go on any longer.