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Door-to-door dilemma

By Staff | May 6, 2009

Whether or not you live on Sanibel full-time or part-time, you’ve heard this scenario before: A person knocks on your door, asking if you need any landscaping work done. They tell you that they’ve got a crew in the area and, before they go back across the causeway, they’ve got a crew available to work off the books, giving you an opportunity to save some money rather than pulling those weeds yourself.

Sometimes, this happens to be a genuine cost-cutting opportunity for a homeowner. But in other cases, it’s an invitation for a scam artist – or artists – to take advantage of.

Over the past several months, the City of Sanibel has received several phone calls complaining about unwanted solicitors offering to do landscaping work or installing hurricane windows before storm season arrives. Usually, legitimate businesses don’t go door-to-door seeking new clients; they advertise in newspapers and on TV, billboards, the Internet, in phone books and shopper directories.

However, not everyone out there is legitimate. So now, the city may be taking action to safeguard its citizens against such solicitation.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the suggestion of updating Sanibel’s ordinance on solicitation was brought up by Bill Tomlinson, Chief of the Sanibel Police Department. In an April 24 memo to City Manager Judie Zimomra, Tomlinson cited the importance on addressing the issue, including:

Clearly identify who is allowed to solicit without a permit and for what purposes (including religious groups, who are not required to obtain solicitation permits, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling).

Clearly identify who is allowed to solicit with a permit and establish an updated process for obtaining a permit.

Clearly identify the legality of the use of literature for solicitation.

Clearly identify fees associated for obtaining a solicitors permit.

Currently, the city’s two-page solicitor’s permit application requires information about the applicant, any organization he or she may represent, tax exemption status (if any) and criminal history. However, according to a city source, the form has been used only once. Solicitor’s permits, for the most part, are governed through Lee County.

We believe that this issue should be brought forward at the next meeting of the City Council, on May 19, and that establishing not only a more comprehensive form, but a more restrictive application process, be considered a top priority.

We understand that making this process more arduous for solicitors – including the cost to conduct background checks and the various fees for each type of permit sought – may discourage future applications, but the peace of mind that this will bring to the citizens of this community is immeasurable.

According to Tomlinson, “Improving our ordinance will provide a comprehensive process for which to appropriately respond to requests for solicitation and to enforce a strong ordinance without infringing on the legal rights of religious organizations.”

We agree. It’s time to bring this permit process into the 21st century, for safety’s sake if nothing else.

– Reporter editorial