Hickory could adopt ban on sex offenders in public parks

Hickory appears closer to adopting a ban on sex offenders in public parks and recreational facilities.

The seven-member Hickory City Council held an hourlong workshop Tuesday to analyze the wording of the proposed ordinance.

The council didn't take action, but generally agreed to language that prohibits registered sex offenders from city parks and recreational facilities except during governmental meetings. The wording is similar to an ordinance considered by Mecklenburg County.

“I think the meeting was productive,” said Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright. “I'm satisfied where we are.” He said he wishes the city also could ban violent offenders and drug users.

The council had delayed a decision last month to address the ordinance section regarding recreational facilities.

Hickory is considering the move in response to a letter from District Attorney Jay Gaither. Nearby Morganton approved the ban in January.

Other N.C. cities and counties to pass similar bans in recent years include Woodfin, Asheville, Canton, Wade and Fletcher and Bumcombe, Haywood and Rowan counties. City Attorney Anita Dula reviewed those ordinances. Some include recreational facilities and several include various exceptions and exemptions.

In Haywood County, for instance, the sheriff can grant an exemption to those who apply.

Council members decided such an ordinance would be cumbersome and an unnecessary burden on law enforcement.

There are more than 400 registered sex offenders in the four-county Hickory region, including 192 in Catawba County, 119 in Caldwell County, 105 in Burke County and 62 in Alexander County. Thirty-three registered sex offenders reside within Hickory's city limits. Hickory police reported two sex offenses in city parks during the past four years, police Chief Tom Adkins said.

Council members asked about the overall safety of the parks. Adkins said that wasn't a problem. “There is not a lot of crime in the parks,” Adkins said. “As a whole, city parks are relatively safe.”