By Ed Pruneau
Missourian Managing Editor
A former city councilman’s claim that the city’s solicitors ordinance is unconstitutional “is wrong,” the city’s legal counsel said.
Guy Midkiff, who served one term as a Ward 3 councilman, addressed the council on the issue this week, saying that when the council passed an ordinance creating a No Visit List the intent was to protect citizens against “aggressive peddlers” going door-to-door. It was not meant to curtail political campaigning or fundraising, he argued.
Residents have the option to sign up to be on the No Visit List. Solicitors and canvassers are expected to obtain the list and not go to homes on it, or they can face arrest.
Midkiff won his seat in 2008 by six votes, defeating Greg Skornia who is now on the council. He said if the No Visit List had been in effect then, he would not have won the election. He says it violates the First Amendment right to free speech and gives an unfair advantage to incumbent officeholders in an election.
He cited court cases from around the country where groups had challenged similar laws and won.
In those cases, however, the local laws required certain groups to register or get permits to go door-to-door, City Counselor Mark Piontek noted. Washington’s ordinance does not require anyone to register or obtain permits, he stressed.
“I don’t think anything is wrong with the ordinance,” Piontek said. Many cities have a No Visit List and Missouri residents can sign up to be on the state’s No Call List to avoid phone solicitors, he noted.
“There’s nothing in the law that’s unique to Washington,” Piontek said. “It doesn’t violate any First Amendment rights.”
Piontek said cases cited by Midkiff specifically dealt with requiring certain types of solicitors or canvassers to get permits before going door-to-door.
“Our ordinance doesn’t require permitting or registration,” Piontek said.
Midkiff said he “respectfully disagrees” with Piontek and asked the council to give groups the right to solicit and canvass in the city.
“If you pick and choose certain groups, that’s when you get in trouble,” Piontek said.
The city counselor did recommend changing the ordinance to “throw out” the No Visit List every couple of years and require residents to sign up on a new list.
Councilman Joe Holtmeier said he followed the list when he campaigned door-to-door. He said he would like to see the list updated from time to time.
Skornia said he would like to update the list every couple of years.
Piontek said he would draft an amended ordinance and bring it to the council for consideration.
The council agreed to discuss the issue at its next meeting Monday, Sept. 23.
“There’s nothing wrong with this ordinance,” Piontek stated.