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FROM HOOTING TO PALM READIN: Strange ordinances eyed

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By PETER SAWYER

A man walks along Central Avenue singing aloud. A friend is sitting close by in a parked automobile and honks the horn to get his attention. They wave at each other. Both have violated the city of LaFollette’s municipal code.
There are various activities prohibited in LaFollette’s municipal code. Some are so commonplace—such as singing in the streets or honking horns in stationary vehicles for reasons other than signaling danger—many citizens probably break them everyday. However, some are so obscure, such as a prohibition against fortunetelling, that one would wonder why they are mentioned at all.
“A lot of the old ordinances are (from) way back in the 1900s, and haven’t been changed,” LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield said. “They’re old, outdated, (should have done away with them) a long time ago.”
The original code was drafted in the 1800s, city attorney Reid Troutman said.
One ordinance prohibits fortune telling.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to hold himself forth to the public as a fortune teller, clairvoyant, hypnotist, spiritualist, palmist, phrenologist, or other mystic with supernatural powers,” the ordinance said.
Stanfield doesn’t know the intent behind the ordinance, but guessed it had something to do with witchcraft.
“It’s basically one of those old laws that’s sitting there,” Troutman said. “That’s outdated to say the least. I don’t think it is (actively enforced).”
Local historian Jerry Sharp doesn’t remember any incidents in LaFollette involving fortunetellers. However, he remembers street preachers crowding the public streets.
While many of the ordinances are archaic, there aren’t any plans to rescind them from the books because it would be too time consuming, Stanfield said. Getting rid of out-of-date ordinances would involve going through the charter.
“If it comes up we’ll have to look at the whole thing and redo it,” Stanfield said.
However, some of the old laws—especially those relating to disturbing the peace—are enforced to some degree.
It’s a violation of LaFollette’s municipal code to yell, shout, hoot, whistle, or sing in the streets. It’s also against code to keep pets that make noise, or have vehicles that are so out of repair they make loud noises.
However, the current administration only responds to complaints.
“Sometimes we do enforce the noise ordinances if a neighbor complains,” Stanfield said. “Most people don’t even know there’s an ordinance against that, until the police show up.”
This occurs when there are loud parties, fireworks, people working on cars late at night or dogs barking, Stanfield said.
The city doesn’t fine people who are in violation, but asks them to be quiet, and they usually listen, Stanfield said.
“I don’t think they fine anybody,” Stanfield said. “We just go out and ask them to stop.”