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Park vagrant spurs action

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By Ashley Andresen, Staff Writer

A one-legged homeless man in a wheelchair camping out at a Fort Fanning Historical Park has spurred city council members to consider passing an ordinance against panhandling and no solicitation.

According to Fire Chief Ron McQueen at last Tuesday's city council meeting, the vagrant – as Mayor Cheryl Nekola has coined him - is costing the city money.

The man reportedly slumps down in his wheelchair and those who pass by either stop to give him money or they call 911, McQueen said. Once first responders arrive, the man assures them he is fine.

But that's not all, according to officials. The man has also been spotted bathing nude in a water faucet near the park's playground.

Nekola said that she considers the man’s presence on city property to be "inhumane" and a liability. She also said the Gilchrist County Sheriff told her that without an ordinance in place there is nothing they can do.

Diane Rondolet, with Gilchrist County Code Enforcement, said she’s not sure what they can do “even with an ordinance, to be frank,” and told council members they have to decide how they would enforce any ordinance put in place.

Nekola and Rondolet said they both spoke with the man on different occasions and each said the man expressed no desire to go anywhere else. He was asked about transporting to Gainesville where assistance would be available and where he says he has family, but said that he likes this area.

City attorney Conrad Bishop said the use of the water at the park can be considered petty theft and bathing there, indecent exposure. The council decided to have Bishop research what has been done by other small cities as far as ordinances go.