The Leader

Solicitors Beware: E. Rutherford Mulls New Regulations

The Leader — Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By Chris Neidenberg / Reporter

EAST RUTHERFORD — Under a proposed ordinance, solicitors and canvassers are strongly advised to register with East Rutherford officials in an effort to legitimate their activities in the community. At the same time, the ordinance gives residents the option of banning any solicitor from even knocking on doors.

After similar laws were adopted in area municipalities, including Lyndhurst and Carlstadt, the borough council unanimously introduced a measure Tuesday, Sept. 15 seeking to regulate such activities, at the behest of Councilman Jeffrey Lahullier.

For the first time, residents will have the option of posting borough-issued weather-proof signs to turn persons, such as those trying to sell products or collect charitable donations, away before they can even knock or ring doorbells.

"They can decide to have no solicitors invited or all solicitors invited," Lahullier explained, before the vote was taken. "Organizations would have to register in town."

A public hearing is set for Oct. 20.

After the meeting, Lahullier, seeking re-election with fellow Republican, Councilman George Perry, in an uncontested race, told The Leader he was not targeting any specific group.

Organizations known to canvass range from religious groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, to non-profits seeking donations, including New Jersey Citizen Action, as well as door-to-door salespersons pitching magazine subscriptions, insurance and other products.

"It's just an issue that has always concerned me," he said. "This will give our residents a measure of protection they are entitled to have."

Though Lahullier emphasized a need to register, a closer look at the proposal still gives residents the option to be pitched by those not registered.

Exempt from the regulations are "any news gathering activity for a bona fide news medium," and "any solicitation of information for a telephone directory or similar book."

Political candidates and organizations must comply with all requirements, but do not have to consider registering.

Provisions include:

Police Chief Larry Minda, who was consulted on the proposal, said the measure is important to elderly persons simply wishing to be left alone.

"We're not trying to bar legitimate solicitors or canvassers," he said. "If they have valid business to conduct, and residents wish to deal with them, there's no problem. Yet there are senior citizens, and other residents, who wish to have no contact with solicitors at all, and that's their right."

"I know many seniors want to feel secure in their homes because of the potential of flim-flam artists," Minda added. "About 15 years ago, I arrested a man who tried robbing an elderly person after posing as a solicitor."

A review of the enacted ordinance in Carlstadt shows there are differences with East Rutherford's proposal.

In Carlstadt, only commercial solicitors pitching products/services, and not charitable groups or other non-profits (like environmental lobbyists), are instructed to fill out an application with the police department.

Non-profits and political organizations, however, are required to write to Carlstadt under official letterhead detailing their activities. And unlike East Rutherford, neither commercial solicitors nor non-profits must pay registration fees.

"In a perfect world, we would prefer no door-to-door soliciting of any kind, but we realize that's impractical," explained Carlstadt Councilman Joe Crifasi.

"If an organization cites their constitutional rights and presents a lawyer, we try working with them," Crifasi noted. "We ask that they, as a courtesy, work with our police department in providing information on the purposes of their canvassing, as well as the identities of all the canvassers they are employing for a project. Their personnel should also carry some form of identification that can be checked and verified, for security purposes."

Crifasi further noted that these non-profits are asked to try limiting their activities before sundown. At the same time, he conceded scam artists will likely not be dissuaded by canvassing regulations.

"But you'd hope legitimate organizations would want to cooperate in helping our residents feel more secure," the councilman said. "It could potentially help us identify suspicious persons intent on causing harm."

Like East Rutherford's proposal, and the current ordinance in Lyndhurst, Carlstadt residents can obtain "no knock" door signs.

In Lyndhurst, those who knock in violation face a smaller fine ($200) than specified in East Rutherford's proposal (at least for the first offense).

Lyndhurst's ordinance was modified after the New Jersey Environmental Federation sued the municipality for an alleged violation of its members' First Amendment rights to spread their views and ask for money at doorsteps. As a result, certain reporting requirements were eliminated.

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