Sex offender residency restrictions tightened

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Some more reluctantly than others, the City Council Tuesday adopted tighter residency restrictions for registered sex offenders in the city.

The ordinance approved unanimously by the council (with Alderman Shawn Marcom absent) prohibits registered sex offenders from living anywhere in the city within 1,500 feet of a school, licensed day care center, park, recreational trail, playground or place of worship.

The only exemption would be if the offender already is living in the city, had lived in the city at the time of his or her offense, or will be living with an immediate family member who has resided in the city for at least two years prior to the offender being released from prison.

The conflict between those conditions raised some questions for several aldermen.

Alderman Jim Sedlacek raised the possibility of an offender who had lived in the city before being imprisoned trying to return to the city only to find that their original home is no longer available, whether sold or rented to someone else.

“That’s a scenario I struggle with,” Sedlacek commented, especially if that person could not move in with other family members for some reason.

City Attorney Crystal Feiber conceded that the ordinance as written would prohibit such a person from living within the restricted zones.

A map provided to the council showed that the restricted areas as defined in the ordinance would include all but a few small portions of a few subdivisions on the north and south ends of the city.

“We can spend a lot of time coming up with ‘what-ifs’,” responded Alderman David Williams. “We all realize those are very limited.

“On those rare occasions, within the proposed ordinance there is an appeals process,” he continued. “It is not set in concrete that you cannot return to Plymouth if your residence was rented out.”

The ordinance allows for an appeal the city’s Public Safety Committee to waive the 1,500-foot restriction. That committee makes a recommendation to the City Council, which makes the final decision.

“It’s going to be hard to think of every possibility, but that’s what the appeals process is for,” Mayor Donald Pohlman pointed out.

Alderman Greg Hildebrand, who proposed the ordinance, explained his reason for bringing it forward.

“A lot of communities around us have already adopted this because they were concerned about dumping,” of registered sex offenders, he said of the residency restrictions, adding that in Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls, the restriction was set at 2,000 feet.

Hildebrand’s original proposal was for 2,000 feet as well, but he concurred with the Public Safety Committee when it reviewed the proposal that 1,500 feet would be a strict enough limit.

“I for one do not care for dumping these sex offenders (in Plymouth) and putting our children in danger. I’m not worried about getting in people’s way. Our families are more important than dumped criminals who will be coming into Plymouth with the open door the city is now,” Hildebrand stated.

“This does not preclude sex offenders coming into Plymouth, but it does preclude Plymouth (from becoming) attractive as an area to come to,” Williams said.

He praised Hildebrand for his effort to keep Plymouth from becoming “an island in Sheboygan County.

“Do we want to have people who have difficulty finding residence in Milwaukee or Sheboygan saying Plymouth looks like a nice community to come to? We don’t need people who have no previous connection with Plymouth, who have no commitment to Plymouth, coming in here with their baggage,” Williams continued.

Alderman Jim Faller, who had opposed the ordinance on the Public Safety Committee, said he felt the 1,500-foot restriction was unnecessary in light of the ordinance’s “original domicile restriction.”

He pointed out that the original domicile section says “No person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense or a crime against a child shall be permitted to reside in the city of Plymouth.”

It then allows exceptions only if the person was a prior resident of the city or has family already residing in the city and is living with them.

Proponents of the ordinance argued that both restrictions were needed to ensure public safety.

Plymouth resident Lonny Koene urged the council to adopt the proposed ordinance during the public comment part of the agenda.

“I feel it’s our duty to give children all the help we can,” Koene told the council before they took up the ordinance.

If they did not pass the ordinance, Koene warned, “I feel you’re telling our children, ‘Hey, we could give you more help but we’re not.’ I believe this should be passed.”

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