Looking Over Hotel-Motel Registries

May 22, 2013

A scheduled second reading of an ordinance that would open hotel and motel guest registries to inspection by public-safety officials was tabled by the Nicholasville City Commission during a special-called meeting Monday afternoon.  During the meeting, city leaders heard from representatives from three Nicholasville lodging facilities who expressed concern over how the ordinance was written. Prior to the discussion, Mayor Russ Meyer had already told the managers that the issue would be tabled until a future date.

“Some things bother me about it,” said Carmen Swider, manager of the Howard Johnson. “Every motel should work with the police, and my motel does, if they give us a specific name. But asking our customers to give up personal information like where they work (is not right). I have spoken with some of my customers, and they feel it’s an invasion of privacy, and I have to agree with them.”

The hotel managers told the board that not every guest is a criminal and should expect certain privacy rights. Managers said if the commission passes the second reading, it could adversely affect business.

“Now, if this passes, I’ve been told by some of our regulars that they’re not coming back just because they feel that their privacy has been (compromised),” Swider said.

City commissioner Doug Blackford said he was a “little naive” on the ordinance and didn’t fully understand the language in it.

“I thought we were identifying if John Doe, who might be a suspect, is at that facility,” Blackford said. “Not does John Doe do this for a living ... just if (he) is actually a guest there and if he is a suspect.”

Commissioner Andy Williams also stated that he, too, had questions about the language.

Police Chief Barry Waldrop said the ordinance — the first reading of which was unanimously approved May 13 by the city commission — states hotels and motels must keep records including names, addresses, places of employment and valid IDs for all guests.

“That is what this particular ordinance is calling for,” Waldrop said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to go every day or every week and get that information. If we suspect something, we want to be able to look at it ourselves and identify if that person who we are looking for is there.”

Waldrop cited a need to make the community safer as the primary reason for seeking the ordinance.

“For example, it wasn’t too long ago at (The Home Place Inn), we had some people who came in from Detroit and they were drug dealers,” Waldrop said. “They were developing runners in the community to sell drugs for them. We ended up going into this hotel and tracking down what rooms they were in and made the busts and got those guys out of there and into the jail.”

Waldrop said two of the men were also involved in a shooting incident with some people who sold drugs for them a few days earlier.

“This is what we don’t need in our community, (and) this is what I’m after,” Waldrop said.

The hotel managers told the board that they didn’t have a problem letting police know if a certain person was occupying a room, if an officer asked.

But Waldrop said he was uncomfortable with that arrangement.

“I don’t want people at the hotel to know who I am looking for either,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust them, but that’s not the way I do business.”

Sue Rogers, manager of The Home Place Inn, told the commission that the men from Detroit were in the hotel, but the rooms were rented out in other people’s names.

“We had no idea until we were watching on our own and saw what was going on, and we called the police to report it, and they came up and busted them,” Rogers said. “Someone from the community came in and rented the rooms for them, and we don’t always know that. You have people coming to visit people, so you don’t always know who is in the room. But if we suspect there is any type of issue going on, and we watch closely, we report it ourselves.”

Following the discussion, Meyer told the managers that the city would revisit the ordinance at a later date, and each hotel would be notified of when the issue would be placed on the agenda.