Up until last week, it was probably legal for Powell residents to relieve themselves in their front yards. But no more.
The Powell City Council passed an ordinance explicitly stating that you cannot urinate or defecate within view of the public. The new city law took effect on Thursday.
“I think there’s a concern that we don’t necessarily want people urinating, defecating around town in view of people,” said City Attorney Sandee Kitchen, with a chuckle. “It should be a given, but maybe it’s not.”
The city has long had an ordinance prohibiting “indecent exposure” and has prosecuted people under that ordinance for peeing in public. But that city law only applied if the person was in a “public place” — such as a street, alley or business that’s open to the public. That didn’t cover, say, a resident’s home.
“... There could have been a situation where somebody was in their front yard, urinating in view of the public, [and] under our code, I would not have prosecuted that,” Kitchen said. (Fortunately, that scenario never presented itself.)
Beyond the issue of what is “public,” the city’s indecent exposure ordinance was never a perfect fit for those types of cases.
The city law deemed it illegal to appear “in a state of nudity or indecently or lewdly dressed or to make an indecent exposure or exhibition of his person.”
Nothing in the ordinance specifically prohibits going No. 1 or No. 2.
“It’s much easier to prosecute somebody for urinating and defecating in public if you have an ordinance prohibiting it,” Kitchen said.
The updates to the city code followed a July incident, in which a man was caught urinating in front of Powell Coin-op Laundry on Clark Street, across from the Powell police station.
Around 5 p.m. on July 16, an officer exiting the station saw the man relieving himself between the laundromat and the neighboring State Farm insurance building.
While officers sometimes deal with cases of public urination, “one this flagrant is not that common,” said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt. The 72-year-old Powell resident explained to police that he’d gone outside “because the bathroom was locked in the laundromat,” Eckerdt said.
An officer issued a citation for indecent exposure and the man ultimately agreed to pay $110 in Powell’s Municipal Court.
During the work on that case, however, Kitchen took a second look at the city’s ordinances.
She said public urination “probably” and “arguably” amounted to indecent exposure under the old city law.
“But it’s very clear when you say to the public, ‘you cannot urinate or defecate in public or in view of [the] public,’” Kitchen said. “Then people have no doubt in their mind.”
To cover any loopholes and give the city “more tools” for enforcement, she prepared and presented two new ordinances to the council last month. One expanded the indecent exposure law to say someone is guilty if the act takes place “within the view of the public.”
The other ordinance specifically prohibits relieving oneself in public.
“It is unlawful, except in the use of appropriate facilities in restrooms designed for public use, for any person to urinate or defecate on any public street or sidewalk, or in any other public place, or in any place open to the public view,” reads the new city law.
At the council’s Aug. 20 meeting, Kitchen explained that the ordinance “allows a little more flexibility in how we charge somebody if they’re doing that.”
She said the language will also put Powell’s code in-line with other Wyoming communities.
“They certainly don’t have it overseas, in some of those places,” laughed Councilman Floyd Young.
With little discussion, the council unanimously approved the new ordinances on three separate readings — on Aug. 20, Sept. 3 and Sept. 17.
“It is Wyoming, and it’s not uncommon for someone to urinate on the side of the road,” Eckerdt said. “However, in public view is not an appropriate place for that to happen.”