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Board votes to require solicitors to register

Town of Tonawanda lawmakers voted unanimously Monday night to require people who solicit door-to-door for charities to register with the Police Department.

"All this really does is help us organize things," said police Capt. Charles P. Rizzo.

Charitable organizations must provide police the names, addresses and dates of birth of the people who will be soliciting, as well identify when they'll be out there. Organizations also must provide solicitors identification that could be shown upon demand.

People under age 18 are exempt.

The information will be kept on file in Police Headquarters, as well as forwarded to the department's patrol division.

"This protects, down the road, the organizations that are doing legitimate business," as opposed to scammers out to make quick money, Police Chief Anthony J. Palombo said at the Town Board's work session.

Following a public hearing, the board voted, 4-0, for adoption. Councilwoman Lisa M. Chimera was absent.

The soliciting proposal arose from recent complaints about a young man traveling door-to-door on behalf a nonprofit, student-directed research and advocacy group, which is registered as a charitable organization. Though police were notified the group would be in the area, the young man was a trainee and wasn't on a list of participants. And he wasn't carrying identification.

Nobody stepped forward to speak during Monday's public hearing, but Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana received an email from someone who questioned whether the proposal was racially motivated. It states, in part:

"Whether or not we require registration of organizations that solicit donations (or religious conversion) is not that crucial an issue," wrote Dean Pavlakis of Kenmore.

"The fact that just one canvasser would spark numerous complaints suggests one of two things: that the canvasser was acting inappropriately or that the canvasser was the member of a minority group," he said.

"The minority population of the town and the village is growing, and it is a disservice to our fellow citizens to react with fearful hostility to people just because of the tint of their skin," Pavlakis wrote.

At Caruana's request, Deputy Town Attorney John W. Dorn responded. He said, in part: "The local law in no way is intended to offend minorities. The intent is to allow the police to know what organizations are going to solicit and have them give the names of the persons to the police so if they get a complaint both the public and the police will know who the person is."

Also on Monday, the Town Board honored Joe Wilkie, an employee of the Youth, Parks & Recreation Department, who set an unofficial world record Friday for the longest walk underwater with one breath.

Wilkie walked 73.6 meters (about 241.5 feet) on the bottom of the pool at the town's Aquatic & Fitness Center, covering that distance in 1 minute and 20 seconds. The previous record was 50 meters.

The feat, which was witnessed by local media and town officials, still needs to be verified by Guinness World Records.

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