Newspaper Opposes Purple Bag Ordinance
NORTHAMPTON–Despite pleas from top management at The Springfield Republican, an ordinance that would regulate how unsolicited publications are delivered has sailed through two council committees and the Board of Public Works, and is now on its way to the full City Council for debate.
Complaints about the haphazard delivery of The Republican’s “Extra,” a purple-bag-clad advertising supplement distributed to 8,200 Northampton households every week, prompted the proposed legislation, said Council President David Narkewicz, who is co-sponsoring the resolution with Ward 3 Councilor Angela Plassmann.
The law would require that unsolicited publications not be thrown on streets or sidewalks, that a verified opt-out and tracking system be implemented by the publisher, and that offending publications be removed upon request within 24 hours. Violations would be punishable by fines of $25 for the first offense and $100 thereafter.
Crafted after a model ordinance adopted by the city of Alexandria, Va., the proposed law is meant to reasonably regulate the distribution of unsolicited publications while still honoring First Amendment rights accorded to “commercial speech,” said City Solicitor Elaine Reall.
On Monday night, representatives from The Springfield Republican appeared before the Committee on Elections, Rules, Ordinances, Orders & Claims in a last-ditch attempt to persuade local lawmakers to back down from efforts to adopt new regulations that would effect their business.
The Republican Vice President and General Manager Fred Fedesco, Circulation and Home Delivery Manager Ed Gaiser, and the newspaper’s lawyer, Atty. Joseph Dusel, argued before the three-member Ordinance Committee that the proposed amendment is unnecessary and ill-advised.
“From a business perspective, the less regulation, the better. Let’s see what we can do without an ordinance,” said Dusel.
The newspaper is already complying with “every aspect” of the proposed ordinance, said Fedesco. “We keep track of every complaint. We are truly committed. You won’t see the problems you saw earlier. We changed contractors and are back on track.”
Narkewicz asked Fedesco and his lawyer why the newspaper considers the ordinance “onerous” if it is already in compliance with its provisions.
Atty. Dusel cited issues of interpretation, enforcement, due process, and free speech. “I’m not holding the scepter of constitutional challenge, but certainly those always occur… Nobody wants an expensive legal battle over an ordinance.”
Narkewicz noted that in Louisville, Ky., a challenge to a similar ordinance was thrown out by a federal judge.
“My constituents are really pissed off about this,” Councilor David Murphy told The Republican management. “Spring must be here—when the snowbanks melt, we have purple bags and dandelions…I have complaints on my answering machine every week.”
Ordinance Committee voted 2-1 to recommend the ordinance to the full City Council, with Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Carney voting in opposition.
“It feels like a punitive act against a single publication,” said Carney, who added that “giving the newspaper the benefit of the doubt” and “engaging in dialog” would be preferable to passing legislation.
The EDHLU Committee (Economic Development, Housing and Land Use), chaired by Mayor Mary Clare Higgins, voiced unanimous support on April 27, as did the Board of Public Works on April 28. The City Council will likely take up the issue at its June 3 meeting, said Narkewicz.
Video: Fred Fedesco, The Republican VP and General Manager, and Atty. Joseph Dusel argue against adopting legislation that would regulate the distribution of unsoliticited publications.