By Eric Pfahler
ST. LUCIE COUNTY — County commissioners said they are interested in creating a new rule to eliminate roadside solicitations, but they said to make such a rule effective, the cities must be involved.
A rule created by the county would cover only county roads. In some areas, a person on one side of the street would be in violation, while a person on the other side of the road would not.
Without support from Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce, a county ordinance to eliminate street solicitations, such as those by veterans charities, would be difficult to enforce, county commissioners determined Tuesday.
Veterans groups’ solicitations became a hot topic after Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reported in February findings from a five-month investigation into the fundraising practices of 121 veteran organizations collecting money in Florida.
Of the organizations’ expenditures, an average of 66 percent went to aid veterans and active-duty military personnel or their families, according to IRS reports. Most charity watchdogs would give that overall average a D grade.
Some organizations give less than 25 percent to veterans’ causes.
Several of the most visible veterans groups collect money along county roads dressed in military-style uniforms — though authorities have learned some of them did not serve in the military.
Although the collections are legal, several communities have looked at measures to eliminate roadside solicitations by such groups. United Veterans of St. Lucie County supports some sort of measure to ban the groups from collecting money on the road, Vice Chairwoman Catherine Lavalle said.
“For our purpose, we are concerned for our veterans, and these people are not concerned for our veterans,” Lavalle said.
St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Garry Wilson said groups lining medians and walking through streets asking for money create a safety concern. The Sheriff’s Office asked county staff to see whether there is a way to control the problem.
Wilson said the veterans issue played a role in pushing for the ordinance, but safety for drivers and pedestrians was the bigger concern.
“(The veterans issue) was a part of it, but it wasn’t the sole reason or motivation that we were looking at,” Wilson said. “This is something that’s always been a concern, whether it’s a car wash on the side of the road where the kids are out in the street holding up signs or whether it’s people going window-to-window trying to solicit money and things like that.”
Assistant County Attorney Katherine Barbieri recommended commissioners either eliminate street solicitations entirely or not change the rule. Such solicitations include veterans organizations, fire district employees, high school students and newspaper salespeople trying to raise money either for causes or profit.
The county cannot pick and choose which groups to allow, Barbieri said.
Commissioners plan to discuss preventing roadside solicitations at the next joint meeting with Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce officials. Such a meeting has not been scheduled, county spokesman Erick Gill said.
Barbieri said she had initial discussions with staff members from the two cities and was told the cities were not pursuing similar ordinances.