By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

If you have traveled Roswell Road at I-285, you have no doubt seen workers soliciting employment. As traffic rushes by, they wait along sidewalks or in private lots, hoping someone will stop and offer a day’s work.

When an interested party from a passing truck signals for workers to hop aboard, they dart into the four-lane road, racing to get in first.

That instant hiring creates a perilous situation for the day laborer and for other drivers, said Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult.

“It obstructs traffic flow,” he said. “It also creates fear in patrons who pull into gas stations and (other businesses) in those areas. If they are not there to solicit work … then you have this whole crowd run over and rush up on them.”

Sult said solicitation contributes to the high rate of accidents at I-285 and Roswell Road because cars stop abruptly to avoid hitting workers running across the street.

Hoping to curb the unsafe behavior, the city of Sandy Springs is proposing an ordinance to regulate solicitation activities. City Attorney Wendell Willard presented the legislation to the City Council on June 2, and the board suggested no changes. The ordinance should go for approval July 21.

“I think it’s a necessity,” Sult said. “We’re not trying to limit anyone trying to get work. What we are trying to do is make sure it is done in a safe and orderly fashion, and I think the ordinance is constructed in a fair, balanced approach.”

The new rules would limit where people could solicit work, but in a way Willard said respects the constitutional right to assemble in public places. That space includes land the city owns along road edges.

“We don’t restrict them from being on the right of way because we can’t restrict them,” Willard said. “Right of way is not just the roadway.”

He said there could be 15 feet of public land on each side of the street, allowing ample room for legal congregation.

To deter workers from lingering along high-traffic streets, the city wants to cite motorists who pick up day laborers. The ordinance states that only when a vehicle is legally parked may a driver solicit workers.

Another provision mandates written permission to solicit on private property and gives landowners the right to post a sign prohibiting the activity. Any person engaging in the behavior in banned areas would be subject to citation.

In addition, the ordinance forbids solicitation within 300 feet of a freeway ramp or on any part of public right of way designated as a keep-moving lane, as well as any area where a motorist may not stop, stand or park.

“The suggestion was 300 feet because that is generally a distance people can judge — a football field,” Willard said.

Violations are misdemeanors and carry a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1,000 and up to three months in jail for the third offense.

The city hopes the ordinance will encourage the use of hiring centers like Holy Spirit Catholic Church’s Solidarity Mission, which opened a shelter this spring on Northwood Drive.

At the center near I-285, day laborers can register for work on a first-come, first-served basis. That is a necessary precaution for workers, Sult said, because informal hiring can involve unscrupulous people who mean harm.

“There’s a checks and balance there,” he said. “Somebody just can’t disappear and never return. It creates an orderly fashion and a more fair approach for those that are trying to get work and those that are trying to have people work for them.”

The shelter plans to offer English and self-improvement classes to waiting workers, as well as medical and dental services.

“The city has worked very hard with Holy Spirit to coordinate to get that center opened,” said Sult, noting the facility has helped reduce solicitation in dangerous areas. “That is another demonstration of the city’s interest in, not necessarily restricting the work or the behavior of solicitation, but making it safe and orderly.”