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Fortune Hunters 

A Tarot-card reader asks the city to take a closer look at what she thinks is an outdated law

When Heather Woodward started reading Tarot cards at the Downtown Farmers' Market two months ago, she says she gave readings to a steady stream of city employees coming down from their offices during the lunch hour.

Four weeks ago, those city workers included two investigators from the city's Finance Department, checking whether the Tarot-card reader had the necessary license.

Woodward didn't see it coming.

She says she has a license for a jewelry booth--she offers items from India--and offers Tarot-card readings for a donation, not a fee. The investigators told her that she needed a different license for the Tarot-card reading--and that doing readings for donations didn't protect her from the code requirements.

Woodward, 34, moved to Tucson four months ago from Ventura, Calif. She read Tarot cards in California without a license and didn't believe a special code would exist in Tucson.

But sure enough, Woodward discovered it was true when she found Article III: Fortune Tellers. The more she read, Woodward says, the more she felt insulted, feeling the use of the phrase "fortune teller" is outdated and derogatory. She also became concerned that licensing someone who reads Tarot cards, practices astrology and numerology, does palm reading or claims to be a clairvoyant could raise issues for the city.

"By licensing the act of telling the future, you are, in fact, deeming it a true art and giving it credibility," Woodward wrote in a recent letter she sent out to city officials. "... (T)his can create a whole slew of liability issues that could quite possibly end up in a court of law."

That's why, Woodward says, that when she reads someone's cards, she always uses phrases like, "This is my opinion," or "I feel this."

What shocked Woodward most is the code's $100 application fee--that also comes with a one-time $25 setup charge--for each and every location she works at, such as street fairs, farmers' markets or parties. Woodward says she thinks a one-time $45 entertainment business license is better suited for her work.

"I don't know any Tarot-card readers who are in this for the money. It's part of their spiritual beliefs," Woodward says. "Most (Tarot) readers I know have kids, and this is a second income for them. They probably make on average $600 to $800 a month."

The code, on Tucson's books since 1953, essentially prevents a Tarot-card reader like Woodward and others from bringing in much of an income at all, she says.

Woodward says another element of the code that she finds troubling is a required background check by the Tucson chief of police.

"How do they determine my moral character and fitness?" Woodward asks.

According to the code, the determination comes from what is essentially a criminal background check. The city also asks for a list of past residences from the applicant going back five years.

Woodward says she's received form letters from different city reps in response, communicating that the matter is being looked into--and she hopes that's true.

That idea that the code is possibly outdated isn't lost on Ellen Hitchings, director of the city's Finance Department, which regulates business licenses--but she's in the business of making sure people are licensed according to the code as it stands now. In January, Hitchings' office hired four new investigators for a new citywide project to make sure all businesses are licensed--even folks who read Tarot cards or do astrological charts on the weekends. All businesses operating without a license are what Hitchings' new investigators want to find.

"It's a regulated section of the code," Hitchings says, explaining that auctioneers and pawn brokers follow the same procedures as fortune tellers, including the required moral-character check through the Tucson Police Department. "But, yes, it is somewhat antiquated."

Woodward's experience with Hitchings' office, however, has put Tarot-card readers and others on the alert, especially since most haven't known about the code or the $100-per-location fee.

Patricia Kirkman, who manages the psychic fair that operates from the Windmill Suites at St. Philip's Plaza, says she was unaware of the special license and suspects that most people who do Tarot-card readings, astrology or other future-seeking activities are in the same position.

While the $100-per-location fee is absolutely prohibitive for people she works with, she says she understands and fully supports the city doing a background check.

"I have had people come to me and share stories about people they've seen and the thousands of dollars they've paid," Kirkman says. "There are people out there who are unorthodox and unethical. It isn't unheard of."

The group Kirkman works with through the psychic fair has known each other for nine years. They are careful about new people who join and make sure they are who they say they are.

"We feel we are there to help and make a difference. We charge a fair price of $20 for 15 minutes if you're a reader or healer," Kirkman says. "If we had to pay $100 each time we worked, it would be difficult for those who are reputable. They will be driven out of business."

Kirkman would like to see the city sit down with people in her trade to discuss alternatives and a better process to streamline background checks. That is what she hopes Tarot-card readers like Woodward will consider doing, rather than rattling city cages.

However, Woodward has yet to fill out an application, submit her moral fitness form or pay the $100 fee for each day she works the market. She also says she doesn't plan to stop doing Tarot-card readings for a donation.

More by Mari Herreras

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