By Timothy Cox
The people who regularly gather in the municipal parking lot in the 200 block of South Main Street in Celina late at night aren't breaking the law by being there and city officials remain uncertain how to deal with the issue.
An employee of a nearby bar had complained to city officials a couple of weeks ago, alleging the late-night gatherings involve drinking and curfew violations. But city police say they are keeping an eye on the crowd -- which ranges from just a handful of people to more than two dozen some nights -- and that there are no real problems with the impromptu parties.
"The municipal lots are open for anybody to come and park in," Safety-Service Director Jeff Hazel told city council members Monday evening. "If we put up 'no loitering' signs, they will go somewhere else."
Police officers have indicated they would rather have the group in the parking lot where they are in plain view. Past patrol stops there have proven the crowd to be lawful and cooperative, Hazel said.
It should be up to city administration officials to recommend any rule changes to address the issue, councilman Collin Bryan said. Bryan said he has not personally witnessed the late-night activity, which usually breaks up shortly after the downtown bars close for the night, Hazel said. Law Director Kevin McKirnan said a "no loitering" rule probably is not the answer. No loitering is "constitutionally vague" language that is difficult to enforce, he said. City officials also noted that any rules implemented for the Main Street parking lot should cover all public parking lots.
McKirnan said city officials successfully handled a similar issue several years ago by crafting rules of conduct. Specifically, city officials banned stopping or standing for periods of time in parking spaces. They did so to curb a trend of groups of young people "tailgating" behind their cars, creating a potential traffic hazard.