Knight and Holmes will present why they believe the city's solicitor ordinance is unenforceable after police have received several reports of aggressive solicitors appearing in the City, and seek direction from elected officials on what to do next.
Concerned residents have recently raised questions regarding a possible connection between solicitors on the Island and a recent increase in burglaries occurring in city limits. Others have said that increased regulation could run afoul of the US Constitution's First Amendment concerning Free Speech. Chief Holmes suggested there was little evidence to support a direct connection between solicitors and burglars in July, though he offered no objection to strengthening the solicitor regulations.
In 1994, the City adopted regulations concerning “Solicitors and Canvassers”, Chapter 5.16 of the Mercer Island City Code. That chapter prohibited “for-profit solicitation and canvassing”, within the City. It required a permit for solicitations by charitable organizations, independent fund raising organizations, and nonprofit fund raising organizations.
According to Knight, the city regulation appears to require background checks on organizations, although the language is ambiguous as to how the City is to conduct such checks. The only penalty associated with violation of city code was revocation of the permit.
According to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MSRC), a private, non-profit organization in supporting "effective local government", a federal court enjoined the City of Medina in 2000 from enforcing a solicitor ordinance, which Knight said was very similar to Mercer Island’s ordinance.
The lawsuit, according to the MSRC, did not address the portion of Medina’s ordinance regulating commercial activities, but it did challenge the registration and background checks on the non-commercial matters. The federal court held that the relevant parts of the Medina code were unconstitutional and an improper prior restraint on speech protected by the First Amendment.
City officials say they believe the City Council has some ability to regulate commercial solicitors. As other cities have done, certain "time/place/manner" restrictions may be put into place without triggering constitutional concerns or specific statutory prohibitions. The city is also considering license fees, background checks and penalties for violation of a revised ordinance.
Mercer Island City Council will review current solicitor ordinances on the books in five other nearby cities, including: Edmonds, Mill Creek, Poulsbo, Redmond, and Seatac.
City Council will also review an analysis of a "Mercer Island Performing Arts Center" run by Youth Theatre Northwest at the site of the old Recycling Center near Mercerdale Park and Bicentennial Park.
If you go
The Mercer Island City Council will begin its meeting with a study session on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 from 6-7 pm in the City Hall Council Chambers at 9611 SE 36th Street.
The regularly scheduled Mercer Island City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., Aug. 12.