Clinton Township board to decide whether unsolicited newspapers could invoke fees, infractions

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published April 28, 2021

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — At press time, Clinton Township officials were deliberating the enacting of an ordinance that would regulate the delivery of unsolicited newspapers while financially penalizing those who would not comply.

The ordinance was put forward by Clerk Kim Meltzer and introduced at the Board of Trustees’ April 12 meeting. The motion was approved by six of the seven members, with Supervisor Bob Cannon being the lone no vote.

An agenda item for board approval or rejection was listed as part of the board’s April 26 agenda.

In a March 24 letter written to the board, Meltzer said she had received numerous complaints from residents over the years in regard to unsolicited newspapers landing on residential driveways, causing potential safety hazards due to weather, clogging machinery like snowblowers, and littering neighborhoods and making them look aesthetically displeasing.

She worked with Township Attorney Jack Dolan to devise an ordinance that restricts unwanted papers while not challenging the First Amendment.

The ordinance identifies unsolicited materials as commercial paper material delivered through means other than the U.S. Postal Service, such as advertising meant to entice individuals. The term “unsolicited,” Dolan said, refers to papers never originally wanted or requested by a property owner or occupant, but are still delivered.

Permitted locations for delivery are mentioned within the ordinance, including attached to doors of front porches, front door handles, mail slots that are part of doors, places between permanent doors and storm or screen doors, and distribution boxes specially designed for receiving commercial material.

Fines from infraction run from a minimum of $25 to a maximum fine of $500.

Meltzer said after the meeting that she has dealt with complaints of unsolicited materials for two decades, but was told in the past nothing could be done due to the rights allowed within the First Amendment.

She added that the fines are not aimed to be punitive.

“When the public talks to me about something and is willing to put their name behind it and stand behind their argument, I listen,” Meltzer said. “I also care about the businesses and the ability for businesses to be profitable, especially in this time of COVID and the economy. … I don’t want to hurt the papers; that’s not the objective. It’s to respond to the constant requests from the public that it is unwanted.”

Recently, she said she has received “over 50 emails” on the topic — especially a number of residents who desired to “opt out” of the receiving of unsolicited materials but could not properly due so, either due to the dereliction of the companies producing and delivering the material, or the process that needs to be undertaken to permanently stop deliveries.

Meltzer personally contacted publishers of local and metro companies to relay residents’ concerns, saying she had a difficult time getting a hold of some of them just to converse.

She mentioned a township resident who, after having issues for years and finally had a year of no solicitation, started receiving papers at her home again.

“What I really think would solve the problem for everyone is if the papers provided a successful email or phone number for whoever doesn’t want the paper, (so they can) opt out. … That kind of was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If people want to opt out, they should be able to opt out.”

Cannon expressed worry for harming publications that make revenue from physical paper deliveries, as well as fining delivery drivers and the like potential large amounts when they may not make a lot of money in the first place.

Trustee Jenifer “Joie” West said that $500 could be a two-week paycheck to some individuals in these roles, such as those who deliver the papers.

“I think we need to be looking at the penalty a little better,” she said.

Trustee Mike Keys expressed wanting to hold employers and papers more responsible than drivers hired at potential lower cost structures.

“If this is a true money maker for these newspaper companies, they have a responsibility to administer it probably,” Treasurer Paul Gieleghem said. “And that means giving (residents) an opportunity to opt out.”

He acknowledged that may be a “tremendous challenge” due to the interchanging drivers who deliver the unsolicited materials in the first place.

Clinton Township Police Chief Bruce Wade said that although officers do write civil infractions, this kind of offense “would be a real low-priority call.” Some drivers can deliver papers to every home on a street in the matter of a couple minutes, he added.

“Obviously, we’re not going to have the response time to get over there and physically see them doing that,” Wade said.

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