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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • City could toughen restrictions on peddlers

  • Most of the 11 members of the Rolla City Council at Monday night's meeting seemed to lean in favor of an ordinance that would regulate door-to-door salesmen.
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  • Most of the 11 members of the Rolla City Council at Monday night's meeting seemed to lean in favor of an ordinance that would regulate door-to-door salesmen.
    At least one was more than leaning in favor of regulation. Third Ward Councilman Kelly Long said he'd like to have an outright ban on anyone bothering him at home by knocking on his door and trying to sell him something.
    "If we could say we're not going to have any door-to-door licenses, I'd be all for it," said Long, who explained he's away from home many hours each week working with the public. Home apparently is a much-sought refuge for him that he doesn't want disturbed: "Anything we can do to discourage legitimate or non-legitimate business from coming to my house … I'm for it," he said. "I'm all for it."
    Long added an acknowledgement that a Supreme Court ruling has disallowed such a ban, but he said he supports any way the city can make it tougher to go door-to-door to sell products or services or promote commercial events.
    Getting tougher on peddlers, solicitors and canvassers is the purpose of a draft ordinance presented to the council for discussion and study Monday night by City Administrator John Butz.
    There was plenty of discussion, and Mayor Bill Jenks indicated he sensed the council would like the administrator to come back with a final ordinance to be read and passed.
    In his agenda commentary and in his comments to the council Monday night, Butz said Jenks asked for "options for more regulatory oversight" on door-to-door visitors because of some complaints from Rolla residents.
    "Over the last few years, the city has received a dozen or so complaints from residents who felt intimidated or threatened by over-aggressive peddlers, and on at least two occasions senior citizens had to call for help to escort some out of their homes," he wrote in his commentary.
    Monday night, explaining the draft ordinance, Butz said it includes a couple of key sections. One provides for a "no-visit list" that is similar to the Missouri attorney general's no-call list that prohibits telephone salesmen from calling. The other section puts some legal punch into "No soliciting" signs on residential doors.
    "If you have a … sign on your door, they literally can't approach the door," Butz said, explaining what would happen if the ordinance were adopted.
    And City Counselor Lance Thurman added that the no-visit list and the "no soliciting" signs would give the city a one-two punch that could result in a trespassing arrest for any door-to-door seller that ignores them.
    Butz said the draft ordinance is modeled on one from the Missouri Municipal League, and Thurman explained that all such ordinances now are modeled on one from Green River, Wyo., where the aforementioned Supreme Court case originated.
    Page 2 of 3 - Requirements for criminal background checks, plus licenses and identification are included in the ordinance.
    The ordinance spreads over more than six pages, and that put some councilman off a bit.
    "This thing here is like the Obamacare package," said Fifth Ward Councilman J.D. Williams. "It's too long, too redundant."
    One section exempts not-for-profit visitors from the licensing requirements. Presumably, that means Girl Scouts can still sell cookies and church members can still visit to invite neighbors to church.
    Fourth Ward Councilman Louis Magdits questioned whether the exemptions were fair.
    "I'm uncomfortable that we're going to regulate some but not others," he said.
    In the last 10 years, Magdits said, he has had only a couple of unsolicited visits from people trying to sell him anything but he has had many more visits from people in the exempted class.
    "Should we have two classes?" he asked, noting that in his experience, it isn't just salespeople who are pushy. "Some religious groups, you can't clear them off your doorstep, either."
    Magdits also said, "I just hope we're not overreacting for a handful of complaints."
    Other council members offered stories and opinions:
    Second Ward Councilman Greg Sawyer said a vacuum cleaner salesman came to his home once. Knowing that the salesman would receive $50 from his company just to show his product, Sawyer said he tried to be helpful to the young man and listened. When the pitch was over, Sawyer declined the sale and the young man "threw a fit."
    "He got physical," Sawyer said. "He started throwing things around … I removed him."
    The problem, Sawyer said, there are people in the community, such as his own father, who are seniors and are unable to physically remove an abusive salesman.
    Councilwoman Sue Eudaly, of the Third Ward, did not oppose the ordinance, but wondered how it could stop salesmen with criminal backgrounds who would skip the licensing process and would merely arrive in town and "go out and start selling."
    Butz said the key to success would be in educating Rolla residents about the provisions of the ordinance and their (residents') right to ask the salespeople for their business licenses and identification. Residents would need to be educated in knowing their right to be on the no-visit list and to have no-soliciting signs that, unlike now, mean something.
    Sixth Ward Councilman Walter Bowe said the education process would be an uphill battle, but having all residents fully informed about the provisions of the ordinance, should it be adopted, is the only way the plan will work.
    But First Ward Councilman Jonathan Hines indicated he is opposed to the ordinance as presented. Criminal background checks aren't required for business licenses for stores, shops, offices that operate in town. Requiring background checks on people who are here only to sell temporarily doesn't seem fair, and it creates more paperwork, takes more employee time.
    Page 3 of 3 - Moreover, Hines said, the ordinance has the possibility of making "law-abiding citizens more likely to be guilty of a misdemeanor."
    Police Chief Mark Kearse, arguing passionately for an ordinance, said, "I think we're missing the point."
    The problem is that some of the transient salespeople are criminals who can do harm and have done harm in the community. Having the ordinance may scare some of them off.
    "We're trying to keep mainly the elderly safer," he said.
    The chief said he believes the problem is more widespread than the few cases reported to the police, and the purpose of the ordinance is to keep that problem from growing.
    "It's about criminals preying on people," he said. "That's what the ordinance is supposed to be about."
    The transients are far more likely to be a hazard than the people who buy business licenses for permanent businesses in Rolla. He urged the council to use common sense and understand the difference.
    "Let's target the ones that are the problem," he said. "It won't solve everything but it can help."
    Councilman Brian Woolley, of the Sixth Ward, asked who would pay for the criminal background checks and how much would they cost.
    Butz said the cost for checks on people seeking taxicab licenses is about $12. He said that is likely what the cost for the peddlers, solicitors and canvassers would be. The cost would be included in the license fee.

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