Sex offender residency restriction divides Yarmouth council, may go to voters

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YARMOUTH — An ordinance that would restrict where sex offenders can live in town will either be approved by the Town Council on July 21 or go to a November referendum.

Councilors discussed the proposal, submitted via a citizen petition, during a two-hour public hearing Tuesday night and decided to continue discussions July 21. At that time they can approve the ordinance or decide to send it to voters.

The state doesn’t have laws that govern where sex offenders can live, but allows municipalities to create their own.

The ordinance would prohibit registered sex offenders convicted of Class A, B, or C offenses against children under the age of 14 from living within a 750-foot radius of schools and public areas, such as playgrounds, that are designated for children.

A sex offender who lives within the buffer area prior to the adoption of the ordinance would be exempt, but a convicted sex offender could not move into a buffer area if one is established.

Yarmouth has two registered sex offenders. One, Stefan Shaft, lives in what would be a restricted area.

Shaft, 24, was arrested at his home Feb. 5, 2015, by the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police for possession of child pornography. He resides on Glen Road, between the high school and the middle and elementary schools, and could remain there if the ordinance is approved.

The other registered sex offender would also be exempt because that person doesn’t live within the area covered by the proposed ordinance.

The residency restriction was proposed to the council late last year by resident Alison Hinson. Councilors discussed the proposal in February, but decided not to move forward because they were split on the issue.

Hinson then wrote and circulated a petition to send the proposed ordinance to referendum. Five hundred signatures were required; petitioners gathered more than 750.

The Town Charter states that a petition-generated proposal must go to a public hearing within 30 days of being certified, and then go to referendum unless the Town Council enacts the proposal.

Like the dozen or so residents at Tuesday’s meeting, the council was polarized by the issue. Some said it won’t significantly improve safety, while others said it will protect children from sexual predators. 

Councilor Rob Waeldner said he doesn’t support the ordinance because there’s “no evidence that this works.” He said if sex offenders live near schools, children will probably be safer because there are people there to watch and protect them. If sex offenders are forced to move to more rural parts of town, it puts children who live in those areas at greater risk. 

Parts of an email from Superintendent Andrew Dolloff were read aloud, with Dolloff making the same remarks as Waeldner and saying he doesn’t support the ordinance. The School Committee has also decided not to support the proposal.

Councilor David Craig said the ordinance is unnecessary.

“It’s a feel-good exercise,” he said. “It has the appearance of solving a perceived problem.”

Some members of the public agreed. Antoninia Pelletier said the ordinance “doesn’t offer any real protection and gives a false sense of security.”

Steve Thomas, a clinical social worker, said, “if the goal is to protect children, this process will not work.”

Matt Lauzon, who works in Yarmouth, was in favor of the ordinance. Lauzon, a resident of Biddeford and a candidate for state representative in House District 12, shared his story of being sexually assaulted as a minor.

“Don’t let this happen in your town,” Lauzon told councilors.

He said enacting the ordinance would send a message that Yarmouth doesn’t tolerate sex crimes against children.

Councilor Pat Thompson was adamantly in favor of the ordinance. 

“I am extremely disappointed in this Town Council,” she said.

Thompson said her fellow councilors were putting the rights of sex offenders above the safety of children.

Councilor Jim MacLeod said because of the personal and emotional nature of the issue, the decision should be left to voters.

“I’m very comfortable with letting the public decide on this issue,” he said.

Councilor Randy Bates agreed, and said regardless of what councilors think of the ordinance, it shouldn’t be their decision.

“It came forward as a citizen initiative, so it makes sense to go to referendum,” he said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • homeydclown

    @Matt Lauzon – please describe in detail how an ordinance like this would have prevented your s3xual abuse as a child. Did it take place in a location that would be on the protected list? By a person with a previous conviction of the sort? In a public location less than 750 from that person’s home? Would the person have been prevented from committing the crime?

    @Pat Thompson – please elaborate how exactly the rights of s3x offenders (presumably not on parole or probation) are put above the safety of children by residing within the community.

    What I am wondering, pretty much, is: how many children have been s3xually assaulted IN a public place, by a person REQUIRED to register AND 749 feet or less from their front door. Numbers, please.

    Then, more numbers, please. Average WALKING speed for the non-athletic adult is 4 feet per second. Meaning (even) I can cover 750 feet in about 3 minutes. On foot, without exerting myself majorly. In other words – strolling. Running, riding a bike, driving a car – a fraction of that time. A 3 minute walk…. THAT is what keeps my children safe?

    What is the penalty for violating the ordinance? Is a person determined on committing a crime worth decades if not life in prison going to be deterred by this ordinance? Why do I doubt it.

    In summary… what is the point of this ordinance? I have my suspicions…. but would love an answer from the persons mentioned above.

  • mattlauzon

    @disqus_RbBuWrpiZy2:disqus Thanks for the questions and the interest. To be very clear, I don’t believe this ordinance is perfect nor do I think any version of this ordinance is a complete solution. That said, the man I described last night would be impacted if the inclusion of playgrounds was there and overall I believe an ordinance like this (even in its current form) sends a message that this is an issue taken seriously by the community. In the case this helps, here is the message I emailed the Council last night. Please don’t hesitate to reach out directly if you’d like to discuss. matt@matt4maine.com or you can find me on facebook.

    —-

    TO: Councilors and Town Manager

    July 12, 2016 (10:49 PM)

    Hi All –

    I’m just getting home and I felt compelled to say “thank you.”

    I must admit, I’ve helped been a sounding board for people behind the scenes try to find ways to protect children from abuse, protect falsely accused person, help increase rates of success in rehabilitation and to find ways to help victims survive and ultimately achieve whatever their version of success is.

    From my time working in Yarmouth, it’s clear to me that you have managed to foster and maintain a culture that is undoubtedly among the best. I had a feeling that was a result of quality leadership and tonight left me feeling like my gut was right. Sure, there was some tension between you at times but I must tell you that achieving the level of conduct between yourselves, and even more difficult, fostering a high level of professionalism with the audience is unlike any other similar discussion I’ve witnessed. Yarmouth residents should be proud.

    I leave you with a couple notes/thoughts. I truly mean it when I say to take them or leave them, I have zero doubt you have the town’s best interest in mind. On the flip side, please don’t hesitate to call or email me if you’d like to discuss. I’m there all day Monday through Friday and will make time, both to help with your municipal level efforts and also to hear what you think we could do at the state level.

    No particular order and off the top of my mind from thinking on my way home 🙂

    — I must admit, if I was presented the facts you were presented with I would have either pushed to find a way to amend the language or I would have sent to voters with some additional work to see if anything complimentary could be done in terms of education, etc. I do believe a fact set could be put together that would have steered some of you the other direction, but that didn’t happen.

    — I want to be clear, I don’t think enacting this would be a major fix in and of itself. I actually think it could be better worded. For me, it would be more about making a statement and as more and more municipalities take action I do think there’s a real dynamic that cities with high concentrations will see those people move to cities that haven’t made such a statement in some form.

    — The biggest risk with the topic, IMHO, is that it’s one where it’s so emotionally charged and so difficult to get people to show up and speak that it’s *very* easy for the community to begin making poor assumptions…and we all know what happens with assumptions. Things that may normally be small like discussion around recusing yourself or statement about how much of a priority this is can escalate fast. I believe substance is everything but my experience is that perception’s importance elevates here and could open up distraction, division in the community and civil action. All that said, I saw no red flags but I saw the seedlings of things that could turn into them depending on what happens from here. When in doubt, people just want to feel like you’re listening. Sometimes more than the final decision itself.

    — I didn’t follow whether or not you’re able to change the language about of referrendum. If so, I believe this is worth considering. Issues some of you raised here sounded valid to me.

    Independent of all of this, please feel free to send concerned residents my way as I formulate a plan with incumbent legislators about some possible improvements to state law. I commit, my intention won’t be to interject myself in your local decisions (unless you request I do). Rather, it will be to learn as much as I can to inform my decisions in Augusta, which is where I ultimately believe much of this needs to be addressed.

    I should be clear, while I attended with someone and they also were there to read the letter from the petitioner, my views are my own and I strongly believe in hearing all perspectives. Hope you don’t associate the two sets of comments as one 🙂

    Thanks again, was invigorating to see healthy democracy in action.

    Matt

    • homeydclown

      Thank you for the response. But you did not answer the question.

      “How would this ordinance have prevented your s3xual abuse?” … as ““Don’t let this happen in your town,” Lauzon told councilors.”

      Furthermore, what is the purpose to banish this man from residing less than a 3 minute walk from a public location – where these types offenses by these persons are exceedingly rare or non-existent?

      The Criminal Code of Maine already sends a message that all communities in the State of Maine take these offenses seriously. The town of Yarmouth need not do so. Especially not with an ordinance that is completely useless and directed towards a non-existing problem.

      You are not the first (aspiring) politician to ride the s3x offender train into office and re-election. Your continued use of the word “pedophile” during your comments to the council clearly demonstrates a lack of the issues and that you are using emotion for personal advancement.

      I would encourage you to do some research into the issue and effective ways to protect children. The thought that you are running for state office and MIGHT be a person passing legislation entirely based on myths and emotion is the direct opposite of a healthy democracy. It is downright scary.

      • homeydclown

        Lest you do not believe what I have written above, here is a statement from the California S3x Offender Management Board (the official State Agency tasked with managing this population of over 100,000 persons in the State of California).

        “When it comes to residence restrictions and, to a slightly lesser extent, exclusion zones, the research and evidence is sufficiently clear. There is no research which supports the use of these strategies, there is substantial research showing that such policies have no effect on preventing recidivism, and there is growing body of research which indicates that residence restrictions actually increase s3x offender recidivism and decrease community safety. ” [p. 2]

        • homeydclown

          http://www.casomb dot org/docs/CASOMB_LetterRegarding%20AB201_1-7-16.pdf