By Jeff Gallatin
Disagreement between Bay Village municipal officials and Ohio Citizens Action group on the proper time for solicitors to knock on residents’ doors has to led the citizens group filing suit against the city.
Daniel Kobil, a Capital University law professor representing the citizens group, said the action was filed in federal district court Friday because the city was not responding to the group’s concerns. Both city and group legal officials had been discussing the matter for several weeks.
Kobil said he had asked the city notify him by Jan. 23 if it was planning to take action or try and deal with the problem. He said he asked the city to let him know that the group could continue to contact residents under old provisions that provided more time for solicitors to contact residents. When the group did not hear from the city, it filed the action, he said.
“The city law is unconstitutional,” he said. “It doesn’t provide for the First Amendment.”
However, Bay Village Law Director Gary Ebert indicated he was surprised at the action.
“My understanding was that we were still negotiating, and I was working on it with City Council,” he said. “At this point, I think they’re just litigious.”
Bay Village City Council changed the previous solicitation ordinance last year after several incidents in which strangers had attempted to contact children and possibly lure them into vehicles.
Previously, city law had allowed solicitors to knock on residents’ doors and contact people from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The new law established the time as 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. or sunset, whichever came first.
Ebert said council was responding to citizens’ concerns. He noted that several other area cities have similar laws.
“We had several incidents where unknown people had attempted contact with young children,” he said. “After the Amy incident, this community is very sensitive about issues in that area. If you look at the 9 p.m. time, it’s probably fine for the summer months, when it’s still light and you can see who’s at your door. But people don’t like it in the winter and months when you can’t see who’s knocking. Citizens have constitutional rights as well.”
Amy Mihaljevic, a young Bay Village girl, was abducted from a Bay Village shopping center and later found murdered in a rural Ashland County area in 1989.
Kobil said the group understands residents’ concerns.
“They have the right to post ‘do not disturb’ signs and let solicitors know they don’t wish to be contacted,” he said.
Ebert said he is having police review logs for suspicious contact reports and is looking at possible alternatives for the city. He said he was in the process of that and had planned to discuss some with council at its Monday meeting, adding that there had been no council meeting on Jan. 21 because of Martin Luther King Day.
“That’s another reason I was surprised at the legal action, I’d told them we were still discussing it,” he said.
Kobil said the citizens group would be content with Bay Village reverting to its previous law.
“As they say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The previous hours would work,” he said.