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Ritzville City Council works to amend solicitor ordinance

The Ritzville Adams County Journal of Ritzville, Washington

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Due to recent complaints in regards to door-to-door solicitors, the Ritzville City Council is discussing adding to the current ordinance to create new restrictions for future solicitors within Ritzville.

This year the police department received complaints circling around two specific groups of salesmen; vacuums and cleaning products salesmen.

At the Oct. 6 council meeting, Police Chief Dave McCormick brought to light recent complaints in regards to the issue.

There have been discussions between community members on a local Facebook page over whether those selling the products had the necessary permits and how "pushy" the group became when told no.

Chief McCormick fielded some of these questions and stated that, the group in question did have permits but he still sees where improvements could be made for the community.

He believes there could be further precautions taken when handing out permits, such as taking a photocopy of the person's license. This would ensure that when the homeowner asks for their permit they could clearly see it is for that specific person.

Recently at the Oct. 20 council meeting, the discussion turned towards working on specific accompaniments to the ordinance to additionally protect the citizens of Ritzville.

Another addition to the ordinance might contain the license and registration along with a description of any cars the solicitors are using. This way when dispatch receives a call about a vehicle parked in one spot on a block for long periods of time they can easily rule out a prowler.

Kris Robbins, Clerk/Treasurer for the city, advised on the current form required for the permit the solicitors do need to list a description of the vehicles being used to circulate the community.

Councilperson Eric Ottmar brought up the need to include within the ordinance a specification ensuring students and youth groups selling products to raise money for various activities are still able to go door-to-door.

The current city ordinance in regards to soliciting defines a solicitor as, "any person or agent on behalf of a corporation or other organization who goes from house to house or place to place in the city, selling, taking orders for or offering to sell, rent, lease or take orders for the sale, rental or lease of goods, wares, merchandise, services or for present or future delivery for the making, manufacturing or repairing of any article or thing whatsoever for the present or future delivery."

The ordinance however has a section built in excluding any, "farmer, gardener or other person selling, delivering or peddling any fruit, vegetables berries, butter, eggs, fish, milk, poultry, meats or other farm produce or edibles raised, caught, produced or manufactured by such person in any place in the state or to any person selling or delivering milk or milk products or bakery good produced or manufactured in the state or to members of any religious, charitable, health or welfare service or youth service organizations selling or offering to sell goods or services in order to raise funds for the charitable work of such organizations and for no other purpose."

This section currently protects youth groups or students and there is another section that also excludes permanent residents of the city.

Councilperson Dede Rawlings suggested a possible time frame that was appropriate for solicitors to go door-to-door.

She mentioned having someone knock on your door at 8 p.m. at night is a bit disconcerting.

The City Attorney Mark DeWulf, has looked into the necessary protocols to create a new ordinance with these specifications.

He stated the biggest hurdle an ordinance such as this faces is the constitutional right of free speech, though Councilperson Gary Cook quickly brought up the homeowners constitutional right to privacy.

DeWulf stated the government helps citizens in three ways, right to privacy; the prevention of crime and consumer protection. The other problem the ordinance will face is the distinction between those selling products and those supporting a candidate or religion. Freedom of Speech mostly pertains to those on the supporting a candidate or religion.

Another suggestion is to make it illegal to solicit to a house that has a 'No Solicitors' sign posted, as currently that is not an official offense.

A meeting of the License, Rules and Permits Committee was held with Attorney John Kragt as the representative for Carpenter, McGuire and DeWulf, PS. so an official memo can be drafted and added to the ordinance.

A discussion at this meeting about the Green River Ordinance occurred. This ordinance prohibits all door-to-door solicitation. The committee deemed this to be too" strict for Ritzville as there are only a few groups the police department receives complaints on.

Chief McCormick was also in attendance and reiterated his desire to have a copy of the driver's license on the permit so as to further ensure each member in the group has the permit as opposed to one buying a permit and showing it for all involved.

The fee for a solicitors permit is currently $25 for the permit and then $25 per solicitor. Currently the only action the police can take when they locate a solicitor without the permit is to ask them to go to City Hall and purchase one.

Chief McCormick would like to have the offense of the ordinance be classified as a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor would incur up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. Every other city in Washington state has this offense classified as a misdemeanor.

This would help the law enforcement to have more power in order to help the community stop those who are in violation of the ordinance.

The next item discussed was a possible rule that when a solicitor files for their permit they must wait one business day before being allowed to sell in Ritzville.

This would help to alleviate those selling on the weekend, since the majority of solicitors show up on a Friday to obtain the permit and would be unable to sell until the following Monday.

Another item they would like to add to the permit is a time frame of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or a timeframe such as this the council decides upon.

The three main pieces the council would like to add to the ordinance are applying for the permit at least one business day prior to selling, restricting the time period of sales and to make the violation of the ordinance a misdemeanor.

Copyright 2015 The Ritzville Adams County Journal, Ritzville, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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