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Royal Oak

December 12, 2012

Commission approves ‘do not knock’ registry

Registry doesn’t affect religious, political, nonprofit groups

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — After 10 months and three discussions at the City Commission table, residents will have a new “do not knock” registry to accompany the city’s peddling ordinance.

Effective Dec. 13, the new registry will allow residents to sign up online with the city at www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us to opt into an electronic list, maintained by the Clerk’s Office and made available to door-to-door peddlers. Placement on this list will essentially work the same as a “no soliciting” sign on a resident’s front door. It will prohibit commercial solicitation of goods or services and charge offending peddlers with a civil infraction that includes a fine of up to $500. Violations of other portions of the ordinance could result in a misdemeanor of up to $500 and/or 90 days in jail.

“It’s very, very similar to something we already do for people who need additional parking permits for Arts, Beats & Eats,” City Manager Don Johnson said of the online infrastructure. “We don’t think it’ll be a burdensome task, but we also don’t think it’ll be effective.”

The decision passed 4-3 with high levels of skepticism, because the ordinance cannot ban religious, political or nonprofit solicitation, or anyone asking for directions. The restriction is essentially limited to for-profit businesses.

“There are a class of people who are allowed to knock. Nobody can keep religious people or campaigners from knocking on their door,” said Commissioner Jim Rasor, who suggested creating a sign for citywide individual use instead of requiring people to register and peddlers to find and print out the registry. “It’s easier to do that with a sign than a stupid list.”

Commissioners Kyle DuBuc and Mike Fournier joined Rasor in opposing the vote. DuBuc called the ordinance’s supposed benefits to public safety “a farce.”

“I think this ordinance is an empty promise,” DuBuc said. “There’s no reason to believe this improves public safety in any way if we have people who can legally canvass without this registry. They can put themselves in the guise of a solicitor in order to solicit or infiltrate homes — they would just put themselves in the guise of a political solicitor.

“The worst thing we can do with regard to public safety is to do nothing and call it something. That’s not a placebo, that causes harm.”

Mayor Jim Ellison, who was skeptical despite his eventual support, was the deciding vote; he changed his mind during the discussion after learning the workload would not be overly burdensome on city staff.

“I don’t think this ordinance is going to stop anything,” Ellison said. “We’re going to get a lot of calls, at least in the beginning, until people realize it’s useless.”

Johnson echoed Ellison’s thoughts, but acknowledged there could be some usefulness.

“I still really don’t believe it’s going to solve the problem for us,” Johnson said. “I don’t see a problem putting this in place, although I think it’s going to be a waste of everyone’s time. If maybe it can catch one bad guy, maybe it’s worth it. I have a concern that it’s going to give people a false peace of mind.”

The other commissioners who supported it said some help was better than no help.

“The ‘no solicitation’ signs do not work,” Commissioner Peggy Goodwin said, comparing it to the national “do not call” list.

“I think it’s a reasonable step for the city to take to protect the homeowners of Royal Oak,” Commissioner David Poulton added.

Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello said that, although it could act as a placebo, residents could easily avoid all solicitors by simply not answering their doors. If they have a concern or worry for their safety, a call to the police is a simple three buttons to dial on the phone.

“They only have the right to knock on my door,” Capello said. “I don’t have an obligation to answer it.”

For wording of the new ordinance, and to sign up for the “do not knock” registry later this week, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.