A city committee delayed voting on a set of rules for the new Visitors Center in Lisa Link Peace Park Wednesday night due to concerns, mainly that they would discriminate against the city's homeless population.
Under the rules that were being considered, those in the Visitors Center must wear shirt and shoes, must not bring more than 2 bags in, must not change or wash up in restrooms, must not be intoxicated, and must not have an offensive body odor.
Many in attendance at the Board of Park Commissioners expressed concern that the rules, particularly the body odor, exist to keep out homeless people, who have always been known to flock to Peace Park.
"Those words were added specifically to target the homeless, and you cannot tell me they weren't," said Diana Burke of Madison. "I don't understand how you can put it to that specific park and not put it to any other park in Madison and tell me you're not targeting homeless people."
Given that the Visitors Center is opening Labor Day, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, pushed the board to make a decision on the code of conduct sooner rather than later. He pointed out that the rules would have to be enforced by those staffing the Visitors Center.
"I don't think it's fair to ask these volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens, to have to deal with issues with no rules in place," Verveer said.
But ultimately, the board wasn't comfortable moving forward with the proposed rules without reviewing it more and making amendments.
One committee member, Emanuel Scarborough, pointed out that the way the "odor" rule was worded, it could mean that people of different cultures who "eat different spices" could be excluded from the Visitors Center.
"The library is a place you go inside for hours, and so is the senior center," said committee member Madelyn Leopold, who believes the long list of rules goes against "what Madison is all about."
The board will consider the rules again in September. Only Ald. Paul Skidmore, a committee member, voted against delaying the vote.