Township moves forward with solicitor ordinance

It appears peddlers, solicitors and transient merchants looking to turn a quick buck in Oxford Township could soon be subject to the two Rs – registration and regulation.

Last week, the township board held a first reading of a proposed ordinance amendment that would allow these types of salespeople to conduct their business as long as they apply for and receive permission from the municipality, pay a fee and abide by a set of rules.

Officials voted 7-0 to schedule a second reading and possible adoption for the 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14 meeting.

Under the township’s current ordinance, enacted in 1978, uninvited solicitations are classified as a “nuisance” and prohibited. The only exemption is for “persons licensed . . . to make charitable solicitations.”

But officials fear enforcing the 40-year-old ordinance is a lawsuit waiting to happen as their attorney advised them it violates the First Amendment and could be successfully challenged in court, which could make the township liable for the prevailing side’s attorney fees.

“(Courts have ruled) the (government) cannot make that decision as to what the residents hear or want to hear . . . If a governmental body infringes upon anyone’s constitutional rights, you expose yourself to (paying) actual attorney fees. It is a common situation where . . . the attorney fees are always large,” said Gary Rentrop, township attorney, at the September 2017 board meeting.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who was part of the three-member committee that helped draft the proposed language, favored keeping the existing ordinance because he’s more concerned about protecting residents than salespeople. “I think our homeowners have more rights,” he told this reporter.

But since the majority of the board didn’t agree with going that route, Ferrari views the proposed ordinance as “the best we can do” when it comes to balancing the rights of both groups within the bounds of the law.

“I’m not crazy about it. It’s kind of the best of a bad situation,” he said. “It seems like, throughout this whole process, that those soliciting have more (legal) protection than those who are being solicited from, which I think is very unfortunate.”

Ferrari believes the proposed ordinance will “provide some protection” for residents, but he would still prefer to see something that’s “more stringent” in terms of background checks and requiring salespeople to have photo ID badges.

“Anybody can say they’re anybody,” he said.

Trustee Jack Curtis, who was also part of that committee, hopes the proposed ordinance will address residents’ concerns about door-to-door salespeople.

“The citizens have been complaining that there are vanloads of people being sent out on the streets and nobody knows who they are or what they’re doing,” he said.

Curtis hopes the registration mandate will help residents feel safer because they’ll know “at least (the salespeople have) been vetted” by the township. He noted if salespeople “have a good product to sell” and are honest, they “won’t be afraid to come in and register.”

The proposed ordinance gives residents and the township a way to shut down the activities of unregistered salespeople whereas right now, there is none because the existing ordinance is unconstitutional.

“If you’re not vetted, you can’t be doing it (under the new language). The police can kick you out,” Curtis said.

Curtis said “everybody has a right to talk and sell,” but residents also have a right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Types of salespeople

The proposed language clearly defines the differences between a peddler, solicitor and transient merchant.

“(A) peddler is a person who is selling (products) on-site (whereas) a solicitor is one who is (taking) orders (for goods or services),” Rentrop explained.

A transient merchant is defined as “a person who temporarily sets up business out of a vehicle, trailer, boxcar, tent, other portable shelter, or empty storefront” and “does not remain or intend to remain in any one location for more than 14 consecutive days.”

Exempt from these definitions are garage sales, rummage sales, estate sales, multi-person bazaars, flea markets, auctions, court-ordered sales and “minor children selling lemonade or other products on residential property owned or rented by their parent(s).”

Clerk Curtis Wright asked Rentrop if this proposed ordinance applies to people “campaigning for governmental office.”

“They would not be (considered) a peddler or a solicitor,” the attorney replied.

Registration

Under the proposed ordinance, the three types of aforementioned salespeople would be “required to register” at the township office, located at 300 Dunlap Rd., using an application supplied by the municipality. They would also have to pay a $100 registration fee.

On the form, applicants must provide information regarding their company or business along with information about the individuals who will be operating in the township, including names, dates of birth, valid identification and the make, model and license plate number of all vehicles being used.

The township clerk would be responsible for approving or denying applications. If denied, the proposed ordinance gives applicants the right to have a hearing before the township board to appeal the decision.

Individuals would be “ineligible” from receiving a certificate of registration if they have ever been “the subject of an action by a consumer protection agency or State Attorney General’s office that directly relates to a pattern of disregard (for) consumer rights.”

Certificates of registration would only be valid for one year. After that, in order to continue doing business, the peddler, solicitor or transient merchant would have to reregister with the township and pay another $100.

Those who fail to register would be subject to civil fines. First-time offenders would face a fine of $100, “which will be waived” if the violator registers “within 10 calendar days,” the proposed ordinance states.

There would be a $250 fine for the second offense and $500 for the third offense. In both cases, “the violator must immediately register” with the township.

For the fourth offense, the fine remains $500, but “the violator will be barred from any future registration as a peddler, solicitor or transient merchant” in the township.

Prohibited activities

In addition to mandating registration, the proposed ordinance seeks to regulate the activities of salespeople.

For example, they would be prohibited from “calling attention” to their business or products by “blowing any horn or whistle, ringing any bell, crying out or (making) any other noise, as to be unreasonably audible within an enclosed structure.”

They would also be prohibited from remaining on someone else’s property after having been asked to leave and “making any false or misleading statements about the product or service being sold, including untrue statements of endorsement.”

Under the proposed ordinance, “unless invited to do so by the property owner or tenant,” salespeople would be barred from entering a property “marked with a sign or placard purchased from the township stating ‘No Solicitors.’”

The proposed language does not restrict the hours during which business can be conducted, but it does suggest it be “no earlier than 9 a.m. and no later than 8 p.m.”

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