Street artists caught using public or private property as their canvass will soon be subject to new penalties. During Tuesday's meeting of the Hannibal City Council first reading was given a graffiti ordinance.

Street artists caught using public or private property as their canvass will soon be subject to new penalties. During Tuesday’s meeting of the Hannibal City Council first reading was given a graffiti ordinance.

The measure was given preliminary approval on a 5-0 vote (Councilman Jamie Locke and Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Knickerbocker were absent). The matter will come up for a final reading when the Council next meets on Tuesday, March 21.

Hannibal’s ordinance both defines and prohibits graffiti. The possession of spray paint in certain public places, such as parks, is prohibited, unless it is being used by someone working on behalf of the city. A rewards system will be established that benefits those turning in anyone engaged in graffiti. Those convicted of painting graffiti will be liable for the amount of any reward paid by the city.

The roots of the graffiti ordinance can be traced back to mid November when a local pastor, John Paul Tomko, proposed such a measure, citing statutes in effect in Palm Springs, Calif., as a template. When the Council could not reach an agreement regarding the details of the ordinance it formed a special committee to deal with the particulars of the proposed statute.

That group, which met in early February, reviewed the California ordinance and then crafted one suitable for use in America’s Hometown.

Among the sections of the California ordinance that were omitted in the local version includes a provision that would have allowed city employees to enter private property and remove graffiti.

“The city lacks personnel to achieve this without unacceptable sacrifice to core city functions,” explained City Manger Jeff LaGarce in a memo. “Concerns also exist about the city damaging private property while removing graffiti.”

Sections restricting paint sales to minors and their being in possession of spray paint were eliminated.

“It would penalize young people legitimately attempting to purchase paint for productive use,” said LaGarce, citing summer jobs and helping with home improvements as valid reasons for a minor to buy paint. “It also would be difficult to enforce, and would unduly burden hardware and paint stores, with little residual benefit.

“In short, we feel the burdens of this section outweigh the net benefits.”

Before the proposed ordinance was brought to a vote Councilman Mike Dobson inquired how prohibiting minors from being in possession of spray paint in a park might impact events such as “Art in the Park,” which has taken place in Central Park.

City Attorney James Lemon explained that the city manager, or someone he has designated, such as the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, could grant approval for the use of paint during such an event. The counselor also noted the Council can also override an ordinance, citing its granting of permission for alcohol to be consumed on public property during special events.

Lemon stressed the intent of the ordinance is not to restrict the use of spray paint by minors during legitimate public events, but to “give a tool to law enforcement” in their efforts to curb graffiti painters within the community.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com