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10:05 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Changes to plaza rules on hold to give public chance to comment

New rules are intended to help assure that lawful gatherings and events at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza stay peaceful. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier, file)

New rules are intended to help assure that lawful gatherings and events at the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza stay peaceful. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier, file)

PRESCOTT, Arizona - After receiving plenty of public interest Monday, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors will give Prescott residents a few more months to comment on proposed changes to rules on the popular Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza.

They also will seek approval from the Prescott City Council, since the plaza is located in the city. City staff already reviewed the draft.

"It's everybody's courthouse square," Prescott resident Robert Perkins said during Monday's public hearing. "You're free to do whatever you want as long as it's legal."

Board of Supervisors Attorney Jack Fields noted that there are restrictions, however. People don't have the right to be a nuisance to others, such as aggressive panhandling. But he wouldn't expect an officer to arrest someone for leaving out a tip jar while playing a guitar, either.

The proposed new ordinance has longer definitions of aggressive solicitation and nuisance behavior so they are clearer, Fields said. Federal courts have made it clear that if a government body wants to restrict interaction between people in public places, they need to clearly define what's inappropriate, he said.

A nuisance in the draft ordinance includes fighting, violent or disruptive behavior, unreasonable noise, abusive or offensive language or gestures that are likely to provoke physical retaliation, protracted commotion, trying to prevent a lawful gathering or procession, and recklessly handling a deadly weapon.

For continuous nuisance issues, the proposed ordinance allows officers to ban people from the plaza for 30 days to a year. They can appeal to the county facilities director.

Sheriff Scott Mascher said he's concerned about giving police officers discretion as to whether to ban someone, because that's more of a judicial decision. He wants that section re-evaluated with input from his office and Prescott police.

Looking at the prohibition against camping, Supervisor Chip Davis wanted to make sure people can still take a summer nap on the tree-lined plaza. Supervisor Rowle Simmons noted that some people are drunk and passed out.

The county could define the length of time it's OK to sleep or say it's not OK overnight, Fields said. Some people have pitched tents in the plaza bandstand over the weekend, he said.

Tents and stakes in the ground are not OK, Facilities Director Ken Van Keuren clarified. Someone once set up a Lazy Boy recliner on the plaza, he added.

"It's kind of crazy sometimes," he observed.

William Bronson of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship said people from his church often "give witness and testimony about Jesus Christ" on the plaza and usually face no problems, but there's always someone who gets in a "tizzy." He was concerned that someone from the Potter's House could be evicted because an officer doesn't like the church.

"Everybody interferes with everybody one way or another," Prescott resident Wayne Woodbury added, wondering how to define the word interfere.

Connie Cantelme of Prescott said she'd like to see a ban on aggressive panhandling and loud motorcycles. Simmons noted that the ordinance deals only with issues on the plaza, not the city streets surrounding it.

To email the Board of Supervisors with comments, find their addresses online at Yavapai.us/bos.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder.

Download a PDF file of the proposed Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza ordinance (100 KB)

Download a PDF file of the current Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza ordinance (116 KB)