City of Washington

A letter threatening a lawsuit if the city does not rescind its solicitors ordinance was presented to city council members this week.

The council took no action but is expected to discuss the letter in a closed session next Monday.

The St. Louis law firm of Pleban & Petruska Law, LLC, indicated in the letter that it was retained by an individual intending to file as a candidate for municipal office.

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It further states that “If the city has not rescinded this unconstitutional ordinance by Dec. 6, 2013, our client will have no choice but to pursue all legal remedies available to enjoin enforcement of the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

The letter does not state who the client is. Registration for candidacy begins Dec. 17.

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

The Missourian contacted Midkiff about 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.

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

Piontek was not at this week’s meeting when the letter was presented to the council.

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 noncommerical 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.