To knock or not to knock? That is the question Royal Oak city commissioners are wrestling with in light of recent door-to-door solicitation incidents in the community.
At Monday's City Commission meeting, Commissioners David Poulton and Peggy Goodwin requested members discuss the city's peddling ordinance, saying they believe residents are weary of door-to-door salespeople.
On Jan. 9, a man reported to police that while going door-to-door soliciting with a valid solicitation permit, . This incident is under investigation.
“It was pitch black out. The sun had set," Poulton said. “Because of the recent events of this city, the resident was quite scared and frightened. As a result he went to the door and it is alleged that a weapon was involved.”
In November, two in the slaying of an elderly Royal Oak woman. Also, after allegedly breaking in the front door of a Royal Oak home after no one responded to his knocks, police said. The homeowner and a guest were inside the home at the time.
What’s the problem?
The solicitor in the Jan. 9 incident had a permit and went to the police. “He said he didn’t know what the problem was,” Poulton said.
The difficulty is the ordinance has been piecemealed over the years and is problematic to read, according to Poulton. He would like City Attorney David Gillam to draft an updated ordinance. The commissioner explained he believes part of the problem is the city ordinance allows door-to-door solicitation from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. regardless the time of year.
Poulton would like the hours changed to 9 a.m.-7 p.m. or sunset, whichever is earlier. Under his proposal, if a solicitor showed up at a home at 6 p.m. and the official time of sunset was 5:45 p.m., the police could be called and the violator ticketed.
The commissioner would also like the city to consider a “do not knock” list, so residents or businesses could go to the city clerk’s office and request his or her address be placed on a list. This list would be given to those applying for solicitation permits so they would know which houses to avoid.
When someone knocks on your door, it does cause alarm, Commissioner Peggy Goodwin said. “Hopefully not to the extent you want to pull a gun on someone,” she said.
Goodwin believes not permitting solicitation after dark is a win-win for homeowners who want to see who is knocking on their door and for companies that want to keep their salespeople out of harm’s way.
What about free speech?
“I am willing to have this discussion,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said during Monday's meeting. “But (Poulton’s description of events) was a gross mischaracterization of the incident where the solicitor has a gun pointed at his face. I don’t know if that is necessarily the incident we want to hang this issue on.”
DuBuc said there is a discussion to be had about nighttime solicitation hours, but wanted to make sure the city did not infringe on free speech rights.
City Attorney David Gillam called DuBuc’s comments about free speech rights “well taken.”
“There are certain limits you can put on constraints in terms of hours and things like that, unless you can provide adequate alternatives,” Gillam said.
Gillam noted that someone who wants to put a roof on your house, rake leaves or sell Girl Scout cookies might be considered solicitors. Political speech is excluded from the solicitation ordinance.
'Do not knock' list
City Clerk Melanie Halas said she spoke to the city clerk in Bloomfield Hills about the issue on Monday.
“They have a ‘do not knock’ list right now. However, they tell the people that come in to be on the list that by law these people do have the right to still knock on the door,” Halas said. “So that is something that we do have to look into.”
Commissioner Mike Fournier said he understands folks don’t like people knocking on their doors, especially at night, but noted there are options that don’t require any changes to the ordinance. “You can not answer your door, or you can put up a ‘no soliciting’ sign,” he said.
Fournier worried changes to the ordinance would be a drain on the police and city clerk.
Poulton, Goodwin, Mayor Jim Ellision and Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello voted to support amending the ordinance. DuBuc, Fournier and Commissioner Jim Rasor voted against it.
The city's current Soliciation and/or Peddling Ordinance can be reviewed on the city's website.