By Brandi Makuski
City leaders on Monday opted to postpone voting on a new ordinance that prohibits scattering.
Under the proposed new ordinance, introduced by Councilwoman Tori Jennings last week, home delivery of “any advertising matter, handbills, newspapers, or similar material” would become illegal once a property owner notifies the publisher the delivery is not welcome.
Each violation would result in a $100 citation against the publisher or distributor.
Materials sent via U.S. Mail are not included in the ordinance proposal, but city officials say it would cover door-knob hangers from businesses, non-subscription newspapers, and fliers from political candidates, neighborhood organizations or religious groups.
“[The proposal] does not make any distinction among different publishers or types of materials,” City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said.
The Stevens Point Public Protection Committee unanimously approved the proposed ordinance on Oct. 9, but the City Council agreed to postpone a final vote until further discussion could be had on language contained within the proposal, following a motion to do so by Jennings herself.
Nick Wood, one of the owners of MMC, the parent company of the City Times/Buyer’s Guide, said the ordinance proposal appeared to be targeting the company’s delivery method. Wood said the new law was “unnecessary” because it calls for a process already in place at the company to deal with unwanted delivery complaints.
“Of the 1.2 million papers we deliver annually, are we 100 percent? No; there are going to be complaints — but we do have some pretty rigorous processes in place. If you don’t want the paper you can call us,” Wood said, adding high-turnover for paper carriers can sometimes result in errors.
Carriers are also instructed to “use common sense” and stop delivery at homes where newspapers have accumulated, he added.
Jennings spoke publicly for the first time on the issue Monday, saying she didn’t believe the company’s process was strong enough.
“The notion that this problem could be handled with a simple phone call to the publisher is inaccurate,” Jennings said. “If this were true, we would not have the current trash problem related to unsolicited newspapers and advertisements accumulating in doorways and entryways.”
Jennings said it was easier for property managers to simply throw “wet papers in the garbage each week than to call the offending publisher.”
Jennings also introduced an environmental element to her argument, saying regulation of unwanted newspaper delivery was not unusual and also “follows the attempt to reduce unwanted waste that often ends up in the landfill.”
“In addition, materials that should be recycled end up in our landfill, which increases the city’s disposal costs; the burden of that is bore by the taxpayer,” she said, but did not provide information to support her claim.
Despite the argument, Jennings moved to postpone a vote on the ordinance proposal “until further discussion has taken place,” which she said would include more time for public input and discussion of language in the proposal.
In a separate interview, Mayor Mike Wiza questioned the need for the new ordinance.
“I would hope the person it’s affecting would just call the company and deal with it that way,” Wiza said. “I would like to think we can resolve it without creating a law; I just don’t see enough people affected to necessitate a new law. But that’s up to the council to decide.”
Wiza also said enforcement of the ordinance could be difficult. Residents generally call any number of city offices when they have a complaint, he said, but under the proposed ordinance they’ll be asked to contact the publishers.
“Who tracks all of that? And what’s the burden of proof that ‘reasonable means’ have been taken?” Wiza asked. “This is a law with penalty; it’s an awful lot of hassle for an unwanted door-hanger or newspaper.”
Wiza also believes it’s not clear what problem the proposed ordinance addresses, given its current wording.
“I don’t fully understand what the concern is; we asked [Jennings] what she was trying to fix here — it’s really just the people she says don’t want these newspapers,” Wiza said. “I think this is going to have some unintended consequences.”
Currently, the proposed ordinance reads as follows:
24.07 Scattering Prohibited
(a) It is unlawful to deliver or cause to be delivered any advertising matter, handbills, newspapers, or similar material to any premises where the owner or occupant has informed the distributor, publisher, or person making the deliveries that he or she does not desire to receive such materials. This subsection does not apply to materials delivered via the United States Postal Service. Any publisher or distributor so notified under this section shall take reasonable means to prevent the continued delivery of the unwanted materials to the premises in question. Any subsequent delivery of the unwanted materials to said premises following such notification shall constitute prima facie evidence that the publisher or distributor has failed to take reasonable measures to prevent such unwanted delivery.
The City Council voted 10-1 in favor of postponing the vote, with Ald. Shaun Morrow voting against. Prior to the meeting, Morrow called the proposal “a waste of the city’s time.”
“I think it’s a pointless ordinance,” Morrow said. “Not only will it be almost impossible to enforce, but we have more important things to address.”