Death of a salesman ordinance

Posted 7/21/09

However, in coming months, if a peddler knocks on your door, you may not be able to call police right away.

The city of Powell has a law — known as a Green River ordinance — banning transient merchants from hawking their wares from …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Death of a salesman ordinance


Police chief suggests ‘No solicitors' signsDoor-to-door salesmen usually don't get very far in Powell before someone calls law enforcement.“Our citizens are pretty vigilant on that one,” said Police Chief Tim Feathers. “We get notified by people pretty quickly.”

However, in coming months, if a peddler knocks on your door, you may not be able to call police right away.

The city of Powell has a law — known as a Green River ordinance — banning transient merchants from hawking their wares from door-to-door.

Or, perhaps more accurately, “had” an ordinance.

The city has temporarily suspended enforcement of its law over concerns it violates the United States Constitution.

“I think it's a trend that Green River ordinances are being challenged,” said Powell City Attorney Sandra Kitchen.

And, Kitchen said, in recent years courts have been ruling against cities and siding with their challengers.

The heart of the current ordinance reads, “No person shall go in or upon or knock on the door of or otherwise approach in any manner whatever any private residence for the purpose of selling or soliciting orders for the sale of or demonstrating any goods, wares, merchandise, insurance, or any other thing without having been requested or invited to do so.”

Kitchen said courts have been determining that a blanket ban on traveling merchants violates their constitutional rights to free (or in this case, commercial) speech.

She said she has no plans to draft a new law, though the International Municipal Lawyers Association is working on a possible model ordinance. However, that work likely won't be complete until at least the fall, Kitchen said.

In the meantime, however, folks who are uninterested in listening to a pitch for a new vacuum or widget do have options.

“The thing to keep in mind here is what the Constitution does is it restricts the actions of government,” said Chief Feathers.

As private citizens, residents still have “complete authority” to ask salespeople to leave their property, Feathers noted.

“If they don't leave, call us,” he said.

A preemptive option is to post a sign that says, “No solicitors or peddlers.” It should keep wandering entrepreneurs off your stoop.

If a salesman ignores the notice and still waltzes up the walk, “We can come and cite them for trespassing,” said Feathers.

Signs could be placed on a fence, a porch pillar — anywhere that's clearly visible to visitors approaching your door.

“It just has to be somewhere where they (merchants) can see as they go to knock,” Feathers said.

Folks living outside city limits have always had to post a sign or ask salesmen to leave, as there is no Green River ordinance in the county.

Many other municipalities across the United States likely are in a position similar to Powell's.

The issue came to the attention of local authorities after a Cody incident with Kirby Vacuum salesmen earlier this month. Cody Police received multiple complaints around July 2 regarding the door-to-door vendors.

The Kirby representatives were warned that they were in violation of the city's Green River ordinance, said Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam. The salesmen left town without any citations, Rockvam said, but soon after, the Kirby Company contacted the city, claiming its ordinance was unconstitutional.

Rockvam said that led to the immediate suspension of Cody's regulations, and Powell soon followed.

Powell's Green River ordinance was used last December to cite two Casper men hawking Kirby vacuums. They were each fined $60.

The ordinance is so-called after the first city to enact such a ban on door-to-door salesmen, Green River, Wyo., which did so in 1931.

The ordinance was almost immediately challenged by a seller cited by police, but the law was upheld by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1933, the court wrote, “the Town has authority to declare and punish nuisances, that the practice of house-to-house selling is a nuisance, and that the Ordinance was a reasonable exercise of police power and not in contravention of constitutional rights, or the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.”

But, Kitchen said, court opinion has shifted against the cities' position in more recent times.

The Powell City Council planned to discuss the situation Monday night.

Meanwhile, down in Green River, “Our ordinance is still intact,” said city prosecutor Lisa Botham. Botham said the city has no plans to suspend its ordinance, as her review of existing case law revealed no legal concerns.

However, Botham noted that wording can differ from city to city.

“It does depend on how it (a Green River ordinance) is written,” she said.