The Waxahachie City Council unanimously approved a measure that prohibits registered sex offenders from residing near child safety zones during a meeting Monday night.
According to the memorandum, the ordinance restricts sex offenders from residing within 1,000 feet of a child safety zone. The ordinance defines “child safety zones” as public or private schools, playgrounds, youth centers, a video arcade facility, a public swimming pool or any other premise that regularly holds events primarily aimed towards children.
Violation of the ordinance results in a class C misdemeanor and up to a $500 fine for each offense. Each day that the violation is committed would constitute as a separate offense.
Waxahachie Police Chief Wade Goolsby said the issue first came to his attention a few weeks ago when registered sex offenders called into his police station. He said some future residents were asking their detectives if the city had any residency requirements for registered sex offenders.
Upon further investigation, Goolsby found Midlothian, Red Oak and Ennis all had residency requirements for registered sex offenders.
Italy was the latest Ellis County city to adopt a similar ordinance when its council passed the measure in November 2018.
“We were the only city in the area that did not have one,” Goolsby stated. “We’re a little behind the curve, to be honest with you.”
Goolsby stated that by not having any residency restrictions for sex offenders, he was concerned that the city might have made Waxahachie a more inviting place for offenders to live.
To thwart that mindset, his department drafted an ordinance in-line with residency ordinances surrounding the city to mitigate that concern.
“I don’t want to be a gathering ground for registered sex offenders,” Goolsby stated.
According to the memorandum, 121 registered sex offenders currently reside in Ellis County, with 75 of them living in Waxahachie. Goolsby remarked that the ordinance aimed not to affect registered offenders who are already living here, but rather those who are moving into or around the city limits.
Likewise, registered offenders would not be required to relocate if a new child safety zone was developing near their residence.
“They’re not expected to move,” Goolsby stated. “They were in compliance before that happened.”
He also stated that the ordinance was aimed towards more serious offenders, adding that not every registered sex offender was necessarily a sexual predator.
“If you have an 18-year-old boy dating a 16-year-old girl, he could end up being a registered sex offender,” Goolsby expressed. “That’s not the kind of predator you’re worried about in your neighborhood.”
He did, however, express that there were some high-risk predators out there. Those are the ones, he stated, that the community needs to stay vigilant about.
“I think this is a good, common sense approach,” Goolsby remarked. “We’re not trying to displace people who are currently living in the city. We just want to set some rules for new people moving into the city.”
Goolsby explained that a map put together by the city’s Geographic Information System shows that the proposed ordinance would cover 70 percent of the town. Goolsby stated that the Waxahachie Police Department would update the map every year based on new parks and schools developing within the city limits.
ETJ SIGNAGE ORDINANCE
After the city council convened into executive session, the Waxahachie City Council reconvened and approved a proposed ordinance regulating commercial signs within the city limits and the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
Council member Mary Lou Shipley made the motion for approval, providing a savings, severability and repealing clause, and providing a penalty of $2,000 daily for each offense. Mayor Pro-tem David Hill seconded the motion, and the city council unanimously approved the measure.
The ordinance comes after a dispute began last month with the owner of a local billboard on rural property alongside Interstate 35-E, fewer than two miles outside of the city limits. The sign reads “Did you think to Pray?” with an image of two hands clasped together in prayer.
The city previously stated that the owners received a notice because the sign was out of compliance and they did not seek out a permit for its display. Attorney Dan Gus, however, disputed that assessment, stating that the city claimed the sign violated a 20-year-old city ordinance that restricts advertising copy if it displays a message that does not pertain to the premises where the sign is located.
Gus has previously pleaded the council to revise the ordinance in question, adding that its language limited free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.