Fundraising efforts for some Smith County groups have been put on hold after it was learned that solicitation in roadways in the county might be illegal and could result in a fine.
Smith County Precinct 2 Constable Andy Dunklin said his office has issued 10 citations to members of the New Life Christian Church of Dallas during the past several months for soliciting in the roadway of major thoroughfares.
Dunklin stressed he was concerned about safety.
“We had been out there several times and asked them to leave because they didn’t have the insurance policy or a permit,” he said. “They would leave, but they would just go somewhere else, and we would get calls they were at another location.”
Dunklin’s comments came on the heels of a flurry of emails between county and state officials into the matter.
Through an open records request, the Tyler Morning Telegraph obtained emails detailing soliciting for funds on a roadway, which falls under Texas Transportation Code 552.007.
The code requires the solicitor to obtain a permit from the local authority (county commissioner’s court or city council) if in an incorporated area. The statute then states the solicitor must be a charitable, nonprofit organization and must produce a $1 million liability policy.
However, Smith County spokeswoman Adrienne Hampton said she has checked into the matter, and there is no permit policy in place.
“The county has never had a permit policy, and it has never been brought up,” she said. “The county commissioners would have to have it brought to them, and then vote on whether to implement a policy.”
The news was a blow for the Sharon Shriners, which was gearing up for the organization’s big fundraising drive in May.
Angela Berry, Sharon Shriners bookkeeper, said the charitable organization she works for has been told there will be no permits allowing groups to solicit for funds in roadways, including the Shriners’ annual Paper Crusade, which was to be held May 2 and 3.
“It’s one of our biggest fund raisers, and this will put a stop to fundraising in Smith County. It may potentially affect us quite a bit,” she said Friday.
Ms. Berry said the majority of funding for the Sharon Shriner’s transportation budget comes from the Paper Crusade.
Ms. Berry had sent emails to Dunklin, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and county commissioners to inform them of the upcoming fundraiser.
She did not expect the request would be denied.
An email from Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Jimmy Jackson to Ms. Berry and Smith County officials stated, “Last October, after receiving several complaints, I sought guidance about enforcing the statute from the Smith County DA’s office and county attorney,” he said.
Jackson attached an email from former Smith County Civil District Attorney Stan Springerley, which stated he had researched the topic and learned the commissioners court had not opted to participate in a solicitation permit program.
“As you’ll see, we have been informed that Smith County has elected not to participate in the permit program and will not be issuing any permits, therefore making it illegal to solicit at these locations in the roadway,” the email read.
Jackson spoke with the newspaper Friday and said he had told his troopers if they encountered anyone soliciting for funds in the roadway to ask who was in charge and then educate them on the law.
“This all started last year when I received some complaints about a T-ball team in a roadway asking for donations. The complaints were from people worried about kids’ safety as they asked for donations in the roadway. I began looking into it and learned there are no permits issued in Smith County,” he said.
Jackson said DPS is not the regulatory agency and did not make the law, but only enforces the law.
“We’re not out there to keep any group from gathering donations, but without a permit they cannot do it in the roadway,” he said.
Tyler police spokesman Don Martin said his agency has written 15 citations during the past two years and added officers ran off members of the Dallas church from Tyler during the past two weeks because they were soliciting in intersections.
“If they have a permit, then there is no problem, but when we just inform them they cannot do this and they leave,” he said.
Another group hit by the revelation that a permit is needed are the Smith County firefighters.
Smith County Volunteer Firefighters’ Association President Johnny Brown said until contacted by the newspaper Friday he was not aware a permit was even needed.
Brown said firefighters were scheduled to hold a helmet drive for Lindale firefighter Joe Yeakley, who was injured in a fire last month, but the drive would now be moved to a retail parking lot instead of on city streets as in the past,.
“We didn’t know about this, but now that we do we will find a way to do it within the limits of the law,” he said.
Brown said the county fire chiefs would begin working with cities to develop a permit process.
“Now that we are aware of this, we will probably go to the commissioners court to see if there is a way to get a permit process or at least get specific groups, such as firefighters, permission. But until then we will not have anyone in the roadways even doing the MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Boot Drive, which firefighters do every year,” he said.
Ms. Berry said she understands the law must be followed, but she believed it was cutting the fundraising efforts of many organizations.
“I am all for being safe, but I think there should be a permit we could apply for and I wouldn’t mind them being selective. But to say no to all is kind of harsh,” she said.