Ok, I know it sounds silly, but the city parks department is considering a new parks policy tonight and here’s some of the silliness, including that your neighbor can turn you in without the parks department staff seeing anything, you could be banned and there is essentially no appeal. Of course, this is happening the same time as the county board public hearings so I don’t expect many people to show up. But it seems that this new policy could lead to all kinds of abuses of discretion when parks staff has an issue with people they just don’t like. Between the vagueness of the policies in some cases and the broad activities covered, the process to determine if someone violated the rules and the lack of appeals process, this sounds really crazy.
The details are all here, but I’ll highlight a few of the issues they mention:
Purpose (page one):
Over the last 15 years, several City Parks have had recurring problems with a small number of Park users whose behavior in recreational open areas, restroom facilities, shelters and other places have infringed upon the intended use of the Parks by other users. This behavior has included, among other things, loitering in restroom facilities and shelters, directing abusive or threatening behavior toward other parks users, and engaging in unlawful activity.
Inappropriate Behavior (page two):
There are 16 different things that are considered inappropriate behavior but number one seems to cover several of them:
For the purposes of this Behavioral Policy, Inappropriate Behavior shall include, without limitation by enumeration, the following conduct or behaviors which the Board finds compromises the use and enjoyment of the Parks, and the safety, security and maintenance thereof:
- Committing or attempting to commit any activity that would constitute a crime or a violation of City or County ordinances.
- Selling, distributing or using any dangerous weapon as that term is defined in Wis. Stats. sec. 939.22(10) or using or threatening the use of any other object in such a manner that it may be considered a weapon. (covered by number 1)
- Fighting, engaging in any physically intimidating or assaultive behavior, or making any threats of violence or other unlawful activities. The Board of Parks Commissioners has a policy of zero tolerance for threats and acts of violence in Parks. Any person engaging in such behaviors will be immediately ejected from the Park.(covered by number 1)
- Possessing, selling, distributing, or consuming a controlled substance without a prescription.(covered by number 1)
- Engaging in behavior that is disruptive, harassing, or threatening in nature to Park users or staff, including stalking, unwanted physical contact, or verbal abuse.
- Engaging in explicit sexual activities or conduct.(covered by number 1)
- Bringing a dog into a park, unless allowed under Madison General Ordinances Sections 8.19 or 23.32.(covered by number 1)
- Interfering with the safe and free passage of Park users or staff in Parks, including, but not limited to, lying, sitting, or placing objects (bags, personal items, strollers) in hallways, aisles, floors, doorways, vestibules, bathrooms, or elsewhere in a manner that unreasonably impedes the free passage of persons about the Park or within Park facilities.
- Trespassing by entering or remaining on or in a Park premises after having been notified by an authorized individual not to do so, and entering or remaining on or in a Park premises during the period in which an individual has been banned from the premises.(covered by number 1)
- Entering non-public areas of the Park without permission.
- Theft or intentional damaging of Park materials, furniture, equipment or facilities.(covered by number 1)
- Improperly using or loitering within park restrooms or facilities in a manner which unreasonably prevents access to and use of the restrooms by other users or Parks Division staff; damaging restrooms or leaving them in a condition such that they are unusable by others.
- Vending in Parks without, or contrary to, a valid parks vending permit issued under MGO Sec. 8.17.(covered by number 1)
- Engaging in behavior which unreasonably interferes with, or has the strong likelihood of interfering with, the use and enjoyment of the Park by another, including interfering with another’s use and enjoyment of a Park facility which that person has rented.wow, that is seriously vague
- Engaging in behavior that otherwise unreasonably interferes with or disrupts, or has the strong likelihood of interfering with or disrupting, the intended use of the Park, or the services, amenities, or other activities normally associated with the use of public parks (including participation in programs, activities, and services), including making ongoing noise or using personal electronic equipment at such a volume that it interferes with park services and activities.
- Engaging in repeated violations of this Behavioral Policy, City or County Ordinances, or State Statutes.
Staff Response to Infractions (page 3)
Violation of these behavioral policies can result in expulsion from the Park(s), or portions thereof, as set forth in this Behavioral Policy. Minor violations of these rules will first result in Park Staff attempting to educate or warn individuals about the policies before enforcing such policies. If an individual continues to violate these policies, staff will provide notice and may order the individual to leave for the day. However, any conduct that threatens the life or safety of any person or unreasonably interferes with the intended use of the Park or that is damaging to Park property, equipment or facilities may result in immediate expulsion from the Park premises. Parks Division staff is authorized, and encouraged, to contact the Madison Police Department to respond to such situations.
Violations of this Behavioral Policy (even if a single isolated event) may result in individuals being banned from the Park(s) from one (1) day to one (1) year. In imposing this ban, staff will follow the established procedures below. Parks Division staff will call the Madison Police Department for severe or illegal behavior or when an individual refuses to leave when told by staff to do so.
If a violation is not seen by Park Staff, the veracity of the report shall be determined and all evidence considered, and Park Staff may proceed with these banning procedures if there is a reasonable probability to believe that a person committed a violation of the Behavioral Policy.
BAN PERIOD OF TIME
1. Park Staff shall issue notice to the person expelling the person from the Park for twenty-four (24) hours. A ban of 24 hours or less is not reviewable, but the Person may, within seven (7) days of receiving notice, appeal the determination that they violated the Behavioral Policy to the Superintendent of Parks, who, after considering the evidence, shall determine whether there was a basis to support the Park Staff’s determination that there existed a reasonable probability to believe that the person committed a violation of the Behavioral Policy.
If the banned person refuses to leave, or returns to that same Park during the 24 hour ban period, and the Police Department is required to remove the person from the Park, Park Staff will issue a thirty (30) day ban regardless of whether the Police Department cites or arrests the person for trespassing.
If a person complies with the 24 hour ban, but then receives a second written notice for an additional Behavioral Policy violation within thirty (30) days, the person will be subject to a thirty (30) day ban, in addition to any other bans that might be imposed.
2. If a person receives a second ban at the same Park during a one (1) year period, the person shall be subject to a ban of not less than thirty (30) days and no more than one (1) year from the Park.
3. In the event that a person subject to a ban from one Park receives a ban for a second Park during a one (1) year period, then that person shall be banned from the entire Park system for a period of not less than thirty (30) days and no more than ninety (90) days.
4. In the event that a person receives three (3) or more bans within one year, at any Park, the person shall be subject to a ban of not less than thirty (30) days and no more than one (1) year from any or all Parks.
5. Park Staff will promptly forward a copy of the notice and incident report to the Parks Superintendent. After consultation with Park Staff and a review of the evidence, if the Parks Superintendent agrees with Park Staff’s finding that there existed a reasonable probability to believe that the person committed a violation of the Behavioral Policy, as well as the scope and length of the ban imposed, then the Parks Superintendent shall take no further action. However, if the Parks Superintendent deems it appropriate to rescind or modify the terms of the ban, the Parks Superintendent shall have the authority to do so and shall thereupon notify the banned individual in writing about the decision to rescind or modify the ban and specify the reasons for the rescission or modification and the terms of any modified ban. The Parks Superintendent shall also notify the banned individual of the process for appealing any modified ban, as set forth below.
6. In determining the length and scope of any ban under Sections 2-5, Park Staff and the Superintendent shall consider the person’s underlying behavior, the person’s history of behavioral violations at the Parks, and the impact of the person’s behavior upon others’ use and enjoyment of the Parks.
Wow, this is a joke of an appeals process, by the time you can appeal it and get a decision the ban will be over in many cases.
Upon a written request filed by the banned person with the Parks Superintendent prior to the expiration of the ban period, the Parks Superintendent will review the decision to ban an individual and the terms thereof, and may uphold, rescind or modify the length and scope of the ban based upon the information presented by staff and submitted by the individual. A person may only file one appeal of a ban. The Parks Superintendent must respond to the request within thirty (30) days of the filing of the request. The Parks Superintendent shall notify the banned individual in writing about the decision to uphold, rescind or modify the ban and specify the reasons for this decision. The Parks Superintendent shall also notify the banned individual that they may appeal the determination of the Parks Superintendent to the Board of Parks Commissioners by filing a written request with the City Clerk within ten (10) days of the issuance of the Superintendent’s decision. Any appeal so requested shall be heard by the Board at the next scheduled meeting, unless the appeal is filed within five (5) business days of the next meeting in which case it shall be heard at the following meeting. At the hearing, the banned person and City staff may be represented by counsel, may present evidence, and may call and examine witnesses and cross-examine witnesses of the other party. The Chair of the Board of Park Commissioners shall conduct the hearing and administer oaths to witnesses. The rules of evidence provided in Wis. Stat. Sec. 227.08 for administrative proceedings shall be followed. Parks Division staff shall receive and mark all exhibits, and the staff shall record all of the proceedings on tape. If either of the parties requests a stenographic recording, the staff shall make the necessary arrangements but the expense shall be borne by the requesting party. After considering the evidence presented, the Board of Parks Commissioners shall either uphold, rescind or modify the terms and conditions of the ban. A person’s failure to appear at the Board of Parks Commissioners hearing shall constitute a withdrawal of the appeal. The decision of the Board of Parks Commissioners shall be reviewable in Dane County Circuit Court by certiorari within thirty (30) days of receipt of the final determination from the Board. Until such time as a ban has been rescinded or modified by the Parks Superintendent, or rescinded or modified on appeal by the Board of Park Commissioners, the person is subject to the terms and conditions of the ban.
Well, then, this appeals process seems like unless you are banned for a year, its not worth pursuing.
I’d love to hear an honest explanation of what is behind this. I see several issues:
Loitering in a Park? I get the law violations and creepy behavior in the restrooms. What concerns me more is the “loitering” language. What the hell do you do in a park but loiter in many cases. You hang out, without purpose. You lie around in the sun. You sit around the picnic tables and talk to people. You sit and watch the sunset. Or watch the boats on the lake. Or sit an enjoy the gardening done by volunteers. You watch the birds. Are parks now going to only be for sports activities?
Engaging in behavior which unreasonably interferes with, or has the strong likelihood of interfering with, the use and enjoyment of the Park by another – So, what if you play soccer for 5 hours and no one else can use the soccer field? What if you’re playing frisbee where someone wants to picnic or sun bathe? What if you are listening to music and someone wants to read a book? What if you are painting a picture and blocking someone’s view? What if no one is there, but you could potentially impeding someone’s view? I know, its a little silly, but you can see the slippery slope right? “Strong likelihood of interfering with” sounds like they are just trying to get people out of the parks that annoy the staff for some reason. You could not actually be doing anything wrong, but the staff could determine it might annoy someone at some period in time.
Parking your stroller on a floor I’m guessing that many people find people with large strollers annoying. But face it, if you’re going to the park you’re going to load that thing up and then will need someplace to park it. But if you park it on a “floor” watch out, make sure your neighbors aren’t annoyed with where you parked it!
If a violation is not seen by Park Staff, the veracity of the report shall be determined and all evidence considered, and Park Staff may proceed with these banning procedures if there is a reasonable probability to believe that a person committed a violation of the Behavioral Policy. – Guilty until proven innocent? If someone complains that someone had the “likelihood of interfering with the use and enjoyment” of themselves is that all this will take. Those people were hanging out in the shelter again, please ban them, I might want to go use the shelter at some point and I don’t want them there?
Bogus appeals process The appeals process is set up so that by the time you write an appeal and wait for the parks superintendent to review it the ban is likely over. Even if you get one of the longer bans, you may end up banned for the rest of the summer while you wait to appeal to the Parks Commission.
Bad timing/final vote? I suspect this is largely targeted to homeless people using the park. People who have no place else to go because they have been kicked out of everywhere else. And people who have bags with them and they dared to set them down. Unfortunately, the homeless advocates will largely be at another meeting tonight and this is the first time that this is on the agenda at the parks commission and available on-line to people. It may also be the last. And it won’t go to the council, so this is it. They haven’t had any public meetings or hearings about this policy that have been publicized.
I think this is going to be abused and used to harass and intimidate people, that the appeals will be upheld if there are any appeals, and that people using the parks will have no idea these policies even exist. I could be wrong, but I know what the attitude of the parks department staff leadership is about the homeless, they are scared to death of them and that will carry through in their implementation of these policies.
I’ll admit, I recently visited a park, was hanging out with a homeless person talking about some things and I went to use the restroom where there were about 6 people sitting underneath the overhang. One of them also used the restroom and asked me for money. I politely told them no, and then left. No big deal to me. But I can imagine that in many cases that would lead to a violation of the policy and a potential ban. If they had done it once or twice before and it was reported, they could be banned for the rest of the summer. Some people might think that is ok. I don’t. That person didn’t threaten me, impede my use or otherwise disturb me. Others might be disturbed – not about asking why people are homeless in this city – but because they are afraid. I see neighbors having a very heavy-handed tool to get rid of regular park uses who hang out where they want to hang out – and all it will take is an accusation by the neighbors and people (likely homeless) will be banned with essentially no appeal process. So, where do we want homeless people to hang out – not at the library, not a the capital, not at businesses, not in the parks, not on State St. . . . and so far, not at a day center . . . so where?
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