Despite legal opinion, Lions Club solicits in Unionville
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette thinks it’s illegal for volunteers with charities to stand in the street and collect money from those in passing vehicles, but 78-year-old Mike McGee did so, anyway, on Friday morning.
“I’m not too worried, at my age,” said McGee – standing in the middle of Bay Street in Unionville – when asked if he worried about collecting money in the street despite Schuette’s ruling.
McGee, president of the Unionville-Sebewaing Area Lions Club, and Steve Langford, 68, the group’s treasurer, were among Lions Club volunteers collecting money from motorists Friday and today during White Cane Week.
The effort raises money to assist those with vision problems.
When asked if he thinks it’s dangerous standing on Cass Street in Unionville collecting money Friday morning, Langford said “Not at all – I’ve been a Lions Club member up here for 38 years. Haven’t had anybody try to hit me yet.”
Officials in the nearby Huron County village of Sebewaing no longer allow solicitors in the streets, but village officials in Unionville, with an estimated population of 423, allow such activity. Lions Club volunteers return to the streets of Unionville from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today to collect funds.
“The drivers and the people are cautious,” said Mary Jo Goslin, 61, of Sebewaing, a Lions Club volunteer collecting money in the middle of Bay Street in Unionville on Friday.
Goslin spoke to a reporter as an eastbound semitrailer passed her and slowed to a stop on Bay Street at M-24. Goslin stood about 30 yards west of M-24 between several orange cones placed in the middle of the street.
“When they see these cones, they slow down,” McGee said.
In 2015, Lansing firefighter Dennis Rodeman was killed by a hit-and-run driver while soliciting money in the street to raise funds for muscular dystrophy research. The driver, 24-year-old Grant Taylor of Lansing, awaits a Sept. 5 trial on a charge of murder, and other charges, in Ingham County.
Police allege Taylor became angry with a traffic delay related to the collection effort, and traded words with Rodeman before deliberately striking the firefighter with his vehicle.
An Oct. 21, 2015 letter from Sebewaing village President Alexander Khoury informed charitable organizations it is “against the law” for the village to allow soliciting in public roadways. Khoury wrote in the letter that the firefighter’s death was the reason the village addressed the topic of solicitation in public roadways.
Schuette issued a July 29, 2016 opinion after state Sen. Phil Pavlov asked the attorney general for it. The opinion caused city officials in Vassar, in southern Tuscola County, to suspend issuance of any permits to allow fundraising in the streets.
Schuette’s opinion notes that Michigan law states that “A person, without authority, shall not block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic upon a public street or highway in this state, by means of a barricade, object, or device, or with his or her person.”
Langford said he doesn’t think that language prohibits members of charities from collecting money in the streets.
“I’m no lawyer but the law – as I read it – did not include this kind of an operation,” Langford said.
Unionville Village Council members approved this week’s White Cane Drive along with next week’s Tootsie Roll Drive by Knights of Columbus Council 8582.
Knights of Columbus volunteers collect on Unionville streets from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, May 12, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 13.
McGee indicated that 20 percent of funds collected during the Tootsie Roll Drive goes to a higher level of the Knights of Columbus organization to support those with disabilities.
Of the remaining amount, “66 percent goes to Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School (programs) and 33 percent goes to Christ the King Lutheran School (in Sebewaing and Unionville),” McGee said.
McGee, deputy grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 8582, said the council “hosts fish fries throughout the year, but this (Tootsie Roll Drive) is the big fundraiser.”
Langford said Schuette’s opinion affects charity organizations of all types, not only the Lions Club that provides motorists with miniature white canes in return for donations.
“We’re helping the blind, helping the people with diabetes – whatever the need is,” Langford said. “This is a statewide effort going on here, and you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars that are at stake, if not approaching a million dollars, with all the service clubs.
“This affects Rotary clubs, it affects American Legion (groups) and all of the groups out doing this.”
On Friday, Lions Club volunteers including Langford and Goslin carried sections of white PVC drain pipes – resembling a 4-foot-tall white cane. Money from donors was placed in a hole in the pipe and settled at the bottom of the pipe.
“One of our plumber members, Pete Vollmer, made these,” said Langford, minutes before motorist Jim Sattler, 68, of Tuscola County’s Akron Township, stopped his Dodge Durango to donate money.
“I was born in this town,” Sattler, 68, told a reporter. “I was the last kid born in the (Unionville) hospital.”
Sattler will be among volunteers standing in the streets of Unionville during the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive next week. On Friday, he urged area residents to support the Lions Club White Cane drive for those with vision problems.
“Our (Lions Club) district has a trailer that we can take around to different events, and we screen little kids, doing early detection on vision problems of children,” Langford said. “It takes a half a second if you can get the little people to hold still, and it’s just an amazing piece of equipment, because it picks up on, like, seven different things that could be wrong with a child’s eyes.
“Money for that program comes from this kind of stuff, being out here.”