A petition calling for repeal of the controversial Senior Safety Zones ordinance passed by the Town Council last month has more than enough signatures to force the council to set a date for a special town meeting on the matter unless it votes to reconsider the contentious law and reverse its action.
Town Councilor Rosetta Jones started the petition Dec. 14; it now has 537 certified signatures, Jones said, some 40 more than was required.
“We were very encouraged by the level of response, particularly from senior citizens,” she said. “Montville residents are very smart. When given accurate, fact-based information, citizens make responsible, rationale decisions.”
Jones, an Independent, was joined by Republican councilor Dana McFee and Republican Tom McNally, a member of the Montville Board of Education as they collected signatures over the Christmas holiday at locations including the transfer station and a local supermarket.
The law would prohibit sex offenders from coming in to contact with senior citizens and face a $99 fine if they violated the ordinance. Opponents have called the law unenforceable. It has had several different incarnations and been worked on for many hours by town-hired attorneys researching and re-writing in an effort to see it passed. The council voted to approve with Jones and McFee in opposition.
“But the people have spoken loudly,” McFee said of the response to the petition. “People signed it so freely. And some even made remarks about the ridiculousness of it, but mostly, people don’t want the town to get sued again. We cannot afford it.”
The executive director of the Connecticut affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union told Patch last month it would take the town to court on what he called the unconstitutionality of the ordinance.
At Thursday’s Commission on Aging meeting, four of five members present told Council liaison Billy Caron they’d like to see the town back off the ordinance and wait to see if the state moves on enacting legislation. A bill made it through committee last year but did not make it past both General Assembly houses.
“I initially voted for it with reservations,” said Commission on Aging member John Geary. “And my reservations are a lot more activated now. Montville should sit on it for awhile. Montville has had a history of very bad lawsuits. I strongly recommend Montville cool its heels for a year or so. The town has had enough lawsuits.”
Commission members Mari Jurczyk, Louis Zeigler and Charlie O’Bday all agreed the ordinance should “wait to see if and when the state makes the first move.
“The prudent thing would be to wait for the state,” Zeigler said.
And O’Dbay said “we don’t need another lawsuit.”
Jones went further.
“And what would be worse really than to have a sex offender sue the town over this. Really, trying to protect seniors and then a vile sex offender sues the town. That would be a cruel irony,” Jones said. “There are so many more effective way to help teach our seniors how to protect themselves.”
Jones’ and others contention has been that the ordinance does little to protect seniors, if in fact they were being targeted by sex offenders.
“They are not. There are no statistics, nothing to show that senior citizens are targets for sexual attack,” Jones said. “A law should never be based on unfounded fear. Nor is it good policy to use fear to violate one's constitutional rights, regarding to how vile we think they may be. The taxpayers have suffered enough from town politicians making emotional, ill-informed decisions, on the taxpayers dime.”
Caron said he would share the opinions of the Commission members with the Council and would also speak with seniors at the center’s monthly meeting Friday.
“I’ll bring all of this to the council and see what it wants to do,” he said.
Caron has said from the outset that he brought the ordinance on behalf of seniors “who asked me to do this.”