The few citizens who turned out for Tuesday night’s meeting on a proposed ordinance to regulate door-to-door salesmen had some good questions for Chief of Police Nick Lewis, which was the idea of the public meeting.
The draft ordinance under consideration would regulate three types of sales: peddlers, solicitors and transient merchants – those who temporarily set up a trailer, vehicle, portable shelter or any other storefront for less than 90 days.
Lewis said the Green River Ordinance banning door-to-door solicitation has been found to be unenforceable after several court decisions, noting that now “anybody can come to your door and sell you anything.”
Not only is door-to-door solicitation annoying, it can be deceptive and, in rare cases, dangerous, Lewis said, telling of a meat salesman last year who, after leaving north Big Horn County, sexually assaulted a woman in Bridger and was arrested for the crime.
Salesmen have also been known to ask to use a restroom and then rifle through a person’s medicine cabinet looking for pharmaceuticals.
“That’s a huge red flag,” Lewis said. “I’m fearful about what kind of people are coming into our community.”
Lewis said he became concerned earlier this year when home security salesmen were canvassing the town and were misrepresenting their product, even saying the chief had purchased a system himself.
He discussed the matter with the town council, who asked Town Attorney Sandra Kitchen to draft an ordinance.
The problem is, he said, when the town regulates salesmen, it also regulates local people like Girl Scouts, athletes raising money for their sports programs and others. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to listen to the concerns of local people the ordinance would affect.
“We’re trying to put together an ordinance that is enforceable,” Lewis said.
Lewis said a peddler is someone who carries his wares door to door for sale, while a solicitor is someone who goes door to door taking orders. A peddler, Lewis said, could be someone selling meat or fruit door to door – or even youths selling sports discount cards like the Bulldog Cards.
He said Girl Scouts taking orders for cookies could be considered to be solicitors.
A transient merchant is someone who temporarily sets up a business out of a vehicle, trailer, boxcar, tent or other portable shelter or temporary storefront to sell an item, not remaining in the location for more than 90 consecutive days. The ordinance would cover merchants from barbecue trailers to fireworks stands.
Lewis and town councilman Scott Allred, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, emphasized that no ordinance can prevent someone from selling door to door, but citizens can put up a sign at their home stating that no solicitors are allowed. Still, Lewis prefers a more proactive approach to regulate solicitors.
“I hate for citizens to have to do something to keep people from their doors, and my biggest concern is the criminal element,” the chief said, adding that while no ordinance can fully protect a citizen, a proper law can allow the town to know who is in town selling, where they live, what vehicle they’re driving and other information that would allow police to act more quickly if something illegal happens. The requirement could also act as a deterrent, he said.
It is difficult to regulate solicitors, Lewis and Allred said, because of federal laws relating to interstate commerce, but Lewis said the town can ask solicitors, peddlers and transient merchants to register with the town. Peddlers and transient merchants would be required to apply for a license at least 10 business days before conducting business, under the draft ordinance.
The ordinance would require a license fee of $35 for up to 90 days or an annual fee of $140.
Jim Szlemko said it would be a good idea to require salesmen to wear name tags.
As the discussion turned to the affect of the ordinance on local citizens and organizations, Lewis said he would hope that each and every sports team in a school district would not have to pay a fee and register with the town. Rather, he said, it would be nice if the school district itself could pay the fee and register organizations with the town. He said he will work with Kitchen to resolve that question.
Likewise, it would be nice if an entire Girl Scout council, for instance, could register with the town without making individual scouts or even troops register.
There are several exceptions in the draft ordinance for such things as non-commercial religious or political advocates, wholesale-to-retail sales, sales of perishable food and dairy products, delivery of newspapers or other publications on an established route, garage sales, craft fairs and licensed auctioneers.
Lewis said the ordinance wouldn’t affect things like church meals or the farmer’s market.
Allred said the issue is “what’s the intention here, and what are the consequences of the intent?” He said the town is trying to regulate salesmen from out of town without putting an undue burden on the rest of the people.
Linnea Dickson said she would hate to see someone trying to raise money for something like Key Camp have to pay a fee of $140 when all he would raise is $100 for the trip. Allred said the fee level is only a number on a piece of paper right now and will be discussed by the council.
Others asked about raffle tickets, noting that many fundraisers rely on the sale of such tickets. It was also suggested that the ordinance differentiate between commercial businesses and non-commercial or non-profit organizations.
Lewis made a list of questions that need to be answered before the council begins to discuss the ordinance including raffle tickets, non-profit groups and one-stop shopping for multifaceted organizations like school district.
Dickson asked about the Lovell Swing Choir’s fundraisers like pie sales and singing valentines.
Lewis said one local municipality removed the section in the ordinance about transient merchants, because people “choose” to go to a food stand, a fireworks stand or similar merchants, rather than being solicited at home.
Asked if anyone was dead set against the ordinance, no one raised a hand, but Dickson said, “It depends on the answers to the questions we asked.”
By David Peck