By Joe Beck -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- The Town Council has again balked over proposed wording in the peddlers' ordinance affecting canvassers for political candidates and causes.
The council, meeting in a Tuesday work session, agreed to schedule most of the proposed changes for a public hearing while omitting a few controversial words pertaining to those collecting signatures for candidates or issues. Council members also told staff members to add government agencies to the list of entities exempt from having to obtain a permit from the town under the peddlers' ordinance.
It was the second time in about two months that the council considered changes in the peddlers' ordinance and deemed them a threat to free speech and freedom to petition the government, both parts of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Tuesday's meeting was the second attempt by Town Manager Steve Burke and his staff to win approval for changes in the ordinance, which also covers commercial solicitors, flea markets, itinerant merchants and peddlers.
The strongest objection to the provisions governing canvassers came from Councilman Thomas E. Conkey, although his fellow council members and Mayor Timothy W. Darr also reflected varying degrees of unease in their comments. The criticism focused on fears that the ordinance would inhibit the rights of residents and politicians to campaign door to door.
"I just really have heartburn with the whole canvasser issue from the perspective" of freedom of speech, Conkey said.
Burke said he did not agree that provisions pertaining to canvassers would make it harder for political activists to go door to door. The proposed wording would exempt political activity from requirements governing commercial solicitors, flea markets, peddlers and itinerant merchants, Burke said. But candidates and residents would still be required to prove to town staff members they qualify for an exemption and show their exemption letter upon request.
The goal is improved public safety by making it easier for residents and town officials to identify legitimate businesses and sales people who appear on doorsteps, Burke said.
Councilman Thomas H. Sayre likened the proposal to security measures at airports imposed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago.
"It's sad what this society has come to," Sayre said. "I just feel like I'm having to take my shoes off before going through a metal detector at an airport. This is extra protection stuff."