Liberty Twp. soliciting curfew lifted under threat of lawsuit

Facing a federal lawsuit, Liberty Twp. trustees have extended the hours solicitors are allowed to come knocking on doors.

Board President Tom Farrell told the Journal-News that summer hours, from May through September, will be extended to 9 p.m. Winter times, from October through April, will be extended to 6 p.m., he said.

The changes come after a lawsuit filed by a Utah pest control company after trustees in June reaffirmed a 5 p.m. curfew on door-to-door soliciting.

Officials decided in June not to extend the hours permitted for solicitation in Liberty Twp. after residents expressed concerns about solicitors they said were using aggressive tactics.

Farrell said he didn’t want to lift the curfew but said the township had no choice because courts have determined soliciting is free speech protected by the Constitution.

“I do not agree with the solicitation laws in the state of Ohio or anywhere else,” Farrell said. “I do not believe the First Amendment was written to allow for-profit companies to go door to door any hour of the day or night. However, that’s the way the rules are currently interpreted by the legal system. So we’re going to abide by the law until we can find ways to change it. That’s the bottom line.”

The company wanted the township to remove the curfew and pay "hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages it has sustained as a result of this unconstitutional restraint on its free speech rights and the free speech rights of the citizens of Liberty that want and need its services," the lawsuit read.

“We wish we would have been able to get it resolved without a lawsuit,” Jeremy Fielding, the Texas lawyer who filed the lawsuit, told the Journal-News. “But we’re gratified the city has seen fit to change its laws to bring it in line with the U.S. Constitution and we don’t want to fight about it anymore.”

The restrictions for solicitors were originally instituted 10 years ago because because some companies were dropping young people off in neighborhoods and not picking them up until after 10 p.m., according to Trustee Christine Matacic. Residents worried the solicitors were “casing” their homes, she said.

“I don’t like doing what we’re being forced to do,” Matacic said. “It’s that or you spend taxpayer dollars fighting it. There are some things you say okay how do I spend the taxpayer dollars wisely.”

The township will be providing “no soliciting” decals for residents to post on their homes, which is supposed to curb the unwanted visitors, according to Matacic. She said if someone comes knocking at a house with the sign, then residents should get the person’s name, company, and call the sheriff because it would then become a trespassing violation.

Marlene Mundey, president of the Logsdon Ridge HOA, said in addition to asking for the person’s name residents should also ask for the solicitor’s badge and registration and file a report with the township. She said she fully understands and supports the trustees’ decision.

“As a result of the lawsuit by Aptive Environmental LLC the Liberty Twp. trustees were forced to make a very difficult decision to extend the hours of solicitation,” Mundey said. “In no way does that imply that the trustees are not concerned with the health, safety and welfare of all Liberty Twp. citizens. I know they will explore additional ways to ensure what is in the best interest of the citizens and I support their efforts.”

Trustee Steve Schramm concurred with his fellow trustees that the township would have lost the lawsuit if they continued to fight it and he said it would have been a very expensive legal battle.

“I’m not foolish enough to fight a fight I can’t win,” he said.

He plans to ask the board to join him soon in crafting tighter regulations for solicitors.

“I’d like to revisit our registration rules and then our enforcement fines and crank them up pretty aggressively, basically to the state statutory limits,” Schramm said.

Every solicitor must register with the township and pay a $50 fee to receive a Registered Solicitor Badge, which must be worn where it can be easily seen, according to the township.

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