WILDWOOD - City Commission on Wednesday adopted new "decency standards" for the Boardwalk to outlaw sagging pants and to require shirts during the evening hours.
Adopted in a 3-0 vote, the ordinance was strongly supported by everybody who spoke at the public hearing. Mayor Ernie Troiano said public opinion has been running 98 percent in support.
Troiano said he has received emails and phone calls on the subject from Canada, Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland and Mississippi. He even was interviewed by the BBC in London.
Most inquiries center on the requirement that pants, skirts and swimsuits be pulled up to begin no more than 3 inches below the waist. Troiano said he is amazed at the controversy caused by something as simple as telling somebody to "pull up their pants."
"It's amazing how far, and this is a pun, decency has fallen through the cracks," Troiano joked.
The mayor said he has received emails from people who stopped vacationing in Wildwood because of what they saw on the Boardwalk but now they are booking rooms. A Texas man wrote in an email that he was visiting Philadelphia and now intends to come to Wildwood.
The public at the meeting also approved.
"I feel it is needed. This is our city, and you have to respect it," West Wildwood Avenue resident Dennis Flynn said.
"Thank you for bringing some decency back to our town," Ocean Avenue resident Reggie Byrne said.
Hildreth Avenue resident Bob Craig thanked the commission for his wife, Donna. "My wife won't go to the Boardwalk anymore at night because it's intimidating at times," Craig said.
The toughest questions came from the media. One reporter questioned whether the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. Troiano said it had not yet, but he noted those offended by certain attire have rights as well.
"People say you're violating my rights. Well, what about my rights? We're always concerned about one-sided rights. If you don't want to respect yourself, at least respect the person behind you," Troiano said.
Troiano also addressed whether racial profiling was at play. He read a letter from an African-American grandmother who supported the ordinance and said she wouldn't let her seven grandsons, ages 9 to 21, dress that way.
Commissioner Peter Byron said fashions change and they are not trying to go back to the days when people got dressed up to walk the boards, but "a line has been crossed."
Troiano also was asked why the ordinance addressed only the Boardwalk and not all public places. He said the commissioners weren't out to "fix the world." He said most complaints about attire have come from the Boardwalk, the area with the greatest concentration of people.
Asked why attire was addressed instead of smoking, Troiano said smoking has not generated the complaints.
The ordinance says shorts, swim trunks, pants and/or skirts must not be worn more than 3 inches below the wearer's waist - interpreted to mean at a level below the crest of the ilium - so as to expose either skin or garment underneath.
It also requires a shirt that covers the "breast and/or pectoral area" to be worn after 8 p.m. and until 5 a.m.; and calls for footwear at all times, partly for protection from nails and wood slivers on the Boardwalk.
The ordinance will be enforced by police, Boardwalk inspectors and code enforcement. Violators will initially be asked to alter their dress or leave the Boardwalk. Continued violations could lead to fines and court-approved community service.
A violator cannot be arrested for a dress code violation unless it escalates into something more, such as disorderly conduct.
Troiano said the police will not be walking the boards with tape measures trying to find violators, but the code will be enforced if necessary. With thousands of visitors to keep track of and only so many police officers, it may come down to people being offended.
"Mothers, grandmothers, people with young children, and anybody offended by this, this is for you," said Troiano. "You don't have to look at somebody's rear end."
The ordinance will not be in force until sometime in July, the exact date depending on when it is published in a newspaper. It becomes effective 20 days after publication. City officials expect it to be published next week.
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