(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 3, 2017)
Huntington Woods, MI – A recently passed ordinance that outlines requirements for folks gathering signatures for political petitions in Huntington Woods has raised concerns among residents over First Amendment issues, and will be reconsidered at the next commission meeting.
Ordinance 589 was passed unanimously on March 27. In addition to a permitting process for commercial solicitors, it set the requirement that canvassers provide written notice to the City Clerk about their intent to canvass, including names, addresses, positions, and phone numbers of everyone who will be canvassing. It also requires the canvassers to specify the specific streets or areas bounded by specific streets and the dates that those areas would be canvassed.
It also states,“A canvasser shall carry photo identification and produce it upon the request of any public safety officer for the purpose of determining if the canvasser is covered by a notice received by the Public Safety Department under this Article.”
The ordinance became topic of discussion on social media. David Sloan, who ran for office in 2015, urged supporters to speak against the ordinance. “Many of you know that in 2015 when I ran for mayor of this city, I knocked on all 2500 doors. I could not do that this year under the regulations of this ordinance without submitting excessive information to the city clerk,” he said via email. “Our City Commission has passed numerous ordinances which were not necessary – employing our city attorney for review and engaging staff in unnecessary duties. Our city hall staff is stretched very thin as it is, and unnecessary regulations only create unnecessary burdens. In fact, in order to petition to repeal this ordinance, one would have to register with the city and the police and comply with the regulations of this ordinance. This city has been in existence for 85 years and never has there been a need to impede our 1st Amendment rights…”
City Manager Amy Sullivan said that County Commissioner Helaine Zack had reached out to her with a question about the validity of the regulations based on the First Amendment. City Attorney Carol Rosati, who wrote the ordinance, is writing an opinion for the commission.
Commissioner Jules Olsman said he plans on introducing a repeal to the ordinance at the May 16 Commission meeting, and to replace it with an ordinance that focuses solely on commercial activity. “It is a matter of extreme prudence,” he said. “Anything involving speech you have to be very careful. I would not want to be challenged if filling out a form is a barrier to free speech.”
Olsman said the April 28 change to the ordinance came about because a resident had complained about someone going door to door too late in the evening. “Sometimes you do something to remedy a problem and you inadvertently create new problems,” he said.
He supported the City Attorney and made clear that his proposal to remove the ordinance is not because of mistrust, but because “this doesn’t need to be an issue we debate,” he said. “One thing I like to say is ‘When in doubt, don’t do it.’ And in this case even if the ordinance is acceptable, we still don’t need to open the door to a challenge.”
During the discussion Commissioner Olsman questioned another provision that prohibited people from delivering handbills (fliers, advertisements etc) to vacant homes. “How are they supposed to know if a house is vacant or not?” he asked. Rosati responded that that provision had been part of the old ordinance and was “old language” that was unlikely to be enforced.
Also in the discussion, Commissioner Joe Rozell applauded Rosati for including hours that would limit door-knocking to after 9:00 p.m. or the official time of sunset, whichever is earlier, or before 10:00 a.m. Rosati clarified that hours are only enforceable for the commercial door-to-door activities. “You can’t limit time of pure free speech by hours,” she said. The ordinance reflect that by stating that no peddling or soliciting be done beyond those times.
Read the recently passed ordinance at: