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    Tougher ordinance to govern psychics

    The county approves charging $100 for a fortunetelling license and an additional $25 for a background check each year.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001


    Despite an aggressive campaign from psychics, clairvoyants and spiritual guides, Pinellas County commissioners will not cast aside an ordinance requiring fortune tellers to be licensed.

    Instead, the commission on Tuesday clarified an existing ordinance by requiring those who charge money for fortunetelling services to pay $100 for a license and an additional $25 for a background check each year. Those who do not charge a fee will not be regulated.

    The ordinance, passed last year, required the licenses but did not specify to whom it applied.

    Some residents opposed the ordinance, claiming it was a form of religious discrimination. The county, which received 26 letters and 38 petitions on the issue, didn't answer that argument. Instead, the new amendment makes clear that the regulations apply only to businesses, said Assistant County Attorney Carl Brody Jr.

    But some who spoke to commissioners Tuesday disagreed with the whole idea.

    "This has nothing to do with fortunetelling. This is treading on a religion now," said Joseph Borsh, a high priest in Wicca, a religion which centers on the worship of a goddess who goes by various names, including Earth Mother, and is commonly refered to as witchcraft.

    Some also took issue with being categorized under one definition.

    "When was the last time you guys came to a reading? We don't always tell the future," said Annemarie Sklaruk, an interfaith healing minister who was raised Catholic.

    Those who opposed the ordinance said they were being unfairly singled out because they will be fingerprinted and the county will perform state criminal background checks each year.

    County officials say they are just trying to protect consumers from fraud.

    Nationally, fortunetelling groups often use one name for several people, said John Wood, chief investigator for the county's department of Consumer Protection. Fingerprinting and background checks will let the department know "completely and definitively who we are dealing with," he said.

    Failure to comply with ordinance will draw a $125 fine. The county also can deny or revoke the license if it feels the psychic has been fraudulent.

    The licensing requirement also applies to bingo halls, adult entertainment establishments and charities, all of whom must register each year with the county's Consumer Protection department.

    An ordinance of some kind that required fortunetellers to get licenses had been on the books since 1971, but it had not been enforced. Last year, the county adopted a stricter standard and began to enforce it after county officials noticed an increase in fortunetelling establishments. Consumer protection officials estimated there were about 20 such establishments in the county last year. Nearly 50 have been licensed since the ordinance was passed.

    Jo-An Totty, for one, supports the county's ordinance. The Palm Harbor resident was recently taken by the arm outside of a Palm Harbor book store by a psychic who sprinkled star dust on her and asked if she felt the "aura." Totty said didn't solicit the help of the psychic and is more comfortable knowing there is an ordinance requiring them to be licensed.

    In other matters, commissioners chose the Illinois-based PAR Group as its head-hunting firm for the county administrator search.

    Commissioners initially voted on naming the Atlanta-based Mercer Group Inc. as the firm to head up the search. Commission vice chairwoman Barbara Sheen Todd said she prefered Mercer because she had a first-hand experience with the PAR Group on a search for an executive director for the National Association of County that was "abysmal." But Commissioner Susan Latvala said the city of Winter Haven was unsatisfied with a city manager search conducted by the Mercer Group last year. The vote to approve Mercer failed 3-4. The board then unanimously approved the PAR Group.

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