City of Washington

A move to repeal the city’s no visit list was rejected by city council members following an executive session Monday night.

The closed session was held to discuss a letter from a St. Louis law firm which threatened to file a lawsuit if the city did not repeal that provision in the ordinance regulating solicitors.

The vote to approve the repeal ordinance failed, 5 to 3.

Council members Joe Holtmeier, Walt Meyer and Greg Skornia voted to pass the ordinance while Josh Brinker, Jeff Patke, Steve Sullentrup, Jeff Mohesky and Mark Hidritch voted no.

The vote means that the city’s voluntary no visit list remains in effect.

The proposed ordinance would have amended Section 610.150.3 and Section 610.160 of the city code to prohibit placement of fliers or handbills and peddling, soliciting and/or canvassing on property posted with a “no solicitor sign.”

The St. Louis law firm of Pleban & Petruska Law, LLC, sent the letter to the city earlier this month, indicating that it was retained by an individual intending to file as a candidate for municipal office. That individual has not been identified.

The letter states that the city’s solicitors ordinance is “unconstitutional,” particularly the prohibition against canvassers going door-to-door in support of a particular candidate.

It further states that “If the city has not rescinded this unconstitutional ordinance by Dec. 6, 2013, our client will have no choice but to pursue all legal remedies available to enjoin enforcement of the unconstitutional ordinance, which is likely to prove very costly to the city.”

That deadline passed without the city acting to rescind the ordinance.

In early September, a former city councilman, Guy Midkiff, addressed the council, arguing that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

The Missourian contacted Midkiff after the city received the letter but he declined comment and directed a reporter to contact the attorney when asked if he had retained the law firm in the matter.

In the earlier discussions, Midkiff 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.

At that time, Piontek said the ordinance does not violate First Amendment rights.

City residents may sign up to be on a no visit list which canvassers are required to honor.

Currently, more than half of households in the city have signed up to be on the list, city officials said.

On Piontek’s recommendation, the city council revised the ordinance to require residents to re-register for the no visit list every two years.

The Ordinance

Residents currently 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.

While peddlers and solicitors are required to obtain an ID card and possibly pay a fee, canvassers are not.

A canvasser is a person who attempts to make personal contact with a resident without prior invitation for the primary purpose of attempting to enlist support for or against a particular religion, political party or candidate even if the canvasser accepts the donation of money or distributes a handbill or flier advertising a noncommercial event or service.

A peddler is a person attempting to sell a good or service and a solicitor is a person who is attempting to obtain a donation or distributing a handbill or flier advertising a commercial event or service.

The resident filling out the form has the opportunity to select yes: please include me on the no visit list, or no, please do not include me on the no visit list, for each of the categories.