Indiana Mayor Rules Firefighter Fundraising Violates City Code; No Soliciting Of Funds On Street

Terre Haute firefighters will have to find another place to fill their boots for Jerry's Kids.

Mayor Kevin Burke has announced that the city will not allow firefighters to conduct their annual collection drive in Terre Haute's intersections, as they have done for many years.

The solicitation is a violation of city code, which states: "No person shall stand on or in an intersection, street or highway for the purpose of soliciting money or property for any purpose, charitable or otherwise."

Burke said his refusal was based exclusively on the city ordinance, and on his concern for liability.

"It's the citizens of Terre Haute that have to pay the deductible," he said.

The city has refused permission to other civic groups and organizations to collect money in intersections. Burke said he could not allow city employees to do what others could not.

"[The ordinance] is either good enough to enforce, or it ought to be repealed," Burke said. "If private citizens cannot stand in the right of way to collect money, how can I allow public employees to do it? I'm not going to have public-safety employees doing unsafe things."

Mike Morrison, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 758, said he was not aware of any firefighters being injured while collecting for MDA.

He said the membership was disappointed with the decision, and was working on alternatives.

"We're victims of surprise at this moment," Morrison said. "We're trying to figure out what we're going to do."

Morrison said he would ask the City Council on Thursday to enact a special ordinance that would allow firefighters to collect money on Labor Day weekend.

Burke said, "I don't know that I would be opposed to that, but they'll have to answer the liability question."

The City Council through a special ordinance allowed such solicitation after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, with the money raised going to the victims.

Amber Treat, district director for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Indiana, said the "roadblock" was the most common form of solicitation used by firefighters, and one that has been used for many years. The charity and firefighters are celebrating their 50th year of cooperation this year.

"Firefighters have been known to collect at [other locations], but it has not been as successful," she said. Terre Haute's prohibition, she added, " ... would just be very unfortunate. We have many, many families in the community. Our money does stay local."

"I know it's for Jerry's kids, but is MDA going to pay the liability?" Burke said.

Morrison said the IAFF collects between $9,000 and $17,000 annually for the charity through the roadblocks.

The Jerry Lewis telethon for MDA traditionally runs Labor Day weekend. This year it is scheduled for Sept. 4-6.