Ordinances get closer look from residents, groups

From the odd to possibly illegal, some laws have cities doing double-take

By: Jeremy Carroll | Online Only | Published January 31, 2011

Royal Oak officials recently took action to repeal an ordinance on the books that allowed the mayor to suspend the sale of guns or ammunition in the event of a civil emergency.

Saying it was unconstitutional, resident and gun advocate Paul Dalrymple brought it to the city officials’ attention a year and a half ago.

Similar language that Royal Oak repealed can be found within the Clawson Code of Ordinances. The civil emergency ordinance in Clawson allows the mayor to prohibit the sale of alcohol, along with banning the sale of firearms.

“It’s probably one of those things that was written in the time of horses,” City Manager Mark Pollock said.

He said the city is currently wading its way through their ordinances and will bring back any that require changes or being struck down all together to the City Council in the future.

“We are looking into all of our outdated ordinances,” Pollock said. “These are laws that are not going to be enforced.”

The city, like many others in the area, has many old and odd ordinances on the books. They range from the funny — for example, it’s unlawful to ride a bicycle without both hands on the handlebars — to the possibly illegal — it’s against the law in Clawson for a liquor license owner to allow his business to be frequented or become a gathering place for homosexuals.

Pollock said it’s not a simple process to repeal an ordinance, unless what is being repealed could be aligned with state law. Items that are in the charter can only be overturned by a vote of the people.

The voters don’t always go along with proposed changes, even if they seemingly make sense. In 2008, voters in Royal Oak rejected a proposed charter amendment that would have eliminated the provision that forces the city to have a public health officer. There was one issue — the city wasn’t sure they ever even had a public health officer, a position that has been fulfilled by the county for many years, officials said.

Nevertheless, the measure failed by less than 100 votes, and the Charter Review Committee has not brought it back in front of the voters since. Despite the charter demanding it, the position remains unfilled.

The Royal Oak Code of Ordinances recently came under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, when they told the city through a letter that they believed the ordinance banning begging for change was unconstitutional.

According to city ordinance, it is considered loitering if a person “loiters, remains or wanders about in a public place for the purpose of begging.” The ACLU said through Freedom of Information Act records, they found that Royal Oak police have made at least 15 arrests for begging in the past two years.

City Manager Don Johnson said the city has not officially responded to the letter from the ACLU, but they will.

“(City Attorney) Dave Gillam is looking at our ordinances to see if changes should be brought before the City Commission,” Johnson said.

Gillam was unavailable for comment.

And while Royal Oak and Clawson are by no means clones of one another, the two do share some ordinances, including this quirky one: It’s illegal to throw a snowball at or from a vehicle. Clawson also makes it illegal to throw a snowball at a person.