KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Kalamazoo is getting national attention for recent changes made to its ordinances, including the one when it comes to relieving oneself in public. After Fox News and other outlets picked up on the story, city leaders say they want to set the record straight.
After years of discussion, the city recently passed its updated criminal code with its intent to delete duplicate, outdated and unconstitutional ordinances. City Attorney Clyde Robinson said one update deals with urinating or defecating in public, Section 22-34.1. After the change, it is now decriminalized, but it is still illegal by fine and enforced by police.
“It still remains a violation of our city ordinances. We didn’t change that,” Robinson said. “It’s still against the law, but we’ve changed the penalty to a civil infraction, which means there is no jury trial and it’s proof by a preponderance of the evidence.”
If done in front of people, Michigan state law provides grounds for indecent exposure, which is a criminal violation that carries a higher penalty like jail time.
Robinson says he is “skeptical” the change will condone such behavior, adding that it will help anyone looking to get a job while getting off the streets.
“You go through the process, you clean yourself up, now you put in an application for employment,” Robinson explained. “One of the questions is ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ ‘Yeah, I was stopped for public urination and I pled guilty because that’s what I did.’ Is that employer willing to take a chance on you?”
Yet some business owners, including The Spirit of Kalamazoo co-owner Kathleen Widner, believe a simple change in the city’s ordinances is not the answer.
“I don’t think it’s a step forward. I feel like it’s creating chatter that’s just negative,” Widner said.
Widner said more public restrooms are needed, given that the only one is a Portland Loo near the Arcadia Creek Festival site. She said festivals and other routine events should be giving the city more than enough reason to install more public facilities.
“It’s a public right to use the bathroom and it shouldn’t be put on private businesses to provide the bathrooms,” Widner said.