Aldermen’s citations allege two local newspapers violated litter ordinance

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Two local newspapers &045; including one that is a product of The Natchez Democrat &045; have been cited for littering by the City of Natchez in a case that some readers allege violates First Amendment rights.

City officials say they cited the Miss-Lou Magazine and the Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide because the publications &045; both of which are delivered to readers’ houses free of charge &045; violate the newly revised city litter ordinance.

The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide is published by The Democrat.

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&uot;What we’re trying to get at is anything you don’t subscribe to that’s thrown in your front yard can blow into the gutters or into streets, and that’s litter,&uot; said alderman and Mayor Pro Tem David Massey.

The Buyer’s Guide, a free newspaper that includes both classified advertising and news stories, is delivered to residents who do not subscribe to The Democrat. The Miss-Lou Magazine, which includes news stories and editorials, is delivered to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. Miss-Lou Magazine is independently published by Peter Rinaldi.

Both citations will be heard in municipal court Jan. 15.

Ordinance revision

On Oct. 8, the Natchez Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to revise the city’s ordinance on handbills.

The revision took out language that would allow a person to deposit handbills on unposted property as long as the material was not in danger of blowing away.

On Nov. 26, aldermen voted to authorize Interim Police Chief Mike Mullins to cite both newspapers for violation of the litter ordinance, with Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux casting the lone vote against.

According to Massey, aldermen have wanted to revise the litter ordinance for

&uot;six or seven years.&uot;

&uot;Our only holdup has been the city attorney,&uot; he said. &uot;Our city attorney has refused to do it, and that’s why the board made a motion to get it done.&uot;

The way the litter ordinance was originally interpreted to aldermen by City Attorney Walter Brown, &uot;if someone like the KKK wanted to write a letter and throw it in your yard, they could,&uot; Massey said.

&uot;Anyone could have advertised in something and thrown it in your yard even if didn’t ask for it,&uot; Massey said. &uot;It could be X-rated material.&uot;

Massey said he believes neither publication is a newspaper; instead, he said, they are advertising publications.

Mailing the newspapers or throwing them only to subscribers would not violate the city’s litter ordinance, Massey pointed out.

Jack Lazarus, attorney for Rinaldi, said Massey’s charge that such publications aren’t newspapers is unfounded.

&uot;The Miss-Lou Magazine is a periodical,&uot; Lazarus said. &uot;It’s got news, editorial opinion, commentary, advice – it’s a magazine.

&uot;To call it a handbill is absurd, and we intend to defend it vigorously,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re not going to let this happen.&uot;


Both Massey and Arceneaux said the only complaints they have received from constituents regarding the publications have been that those residents who do not want them have to go to the trouble of throwing them away.

The ordinance was changed because groups’ throwing materials into people’s yards &uot;is something we feel we’ve got to get control of,&uot; said Alderwoman Sue Stedman.

Stedman said she was not aware of the citations as of Tuesday. But if such citations were given, she said, &uot;I assume it’s because they (the publications) violated the ordinance.&uot;

Alderman Ricky Gray said he has not received complaints regarding the publications but voted for the citations &uot;because to my knowledge … the ordinance was already in place and we just weren’t enforcing it.&uot;

Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West said, &uot;I voted positive on both of (the motions).&uot; He said that was &uot;because we’re getting a lot of complaints about people throwing stuff into people’s yards.&uot;

Neither West nor Massey would reveal names of any constituents who have complained.

&uot;We are not aware of the problem alleged by Massey,&uot; Miss-Lou Guide publisher Todd Carpenter said.

&uot;Our publication includes simple instructions for having delivery discontinued. If a reader asks us not to deliver the publication we take that reader off of our delivery list.

But we rarely receive such requests.

It is simply not an issue.&uot;

Rinaldi said he gets fewer than one complaint a month about the Miss-Lou Magazine’s delivery system. But he said readers do not have a problem with calling him at his home with comments.

&uot;Newspapers have a right to distribute. In past year, we only had two people who said they wanted to be deleted,&uot; Rinaldi said. Rinaldi said he also monitors the newspaper’s delivery in every neighborhood every month.

First Amendment issue?

While Rinaldi said he believes both newspapers are being singled out, he said &uot;I don’t think it’s any secret that (Miss-Lou Magazine has) had a number of editorial disagreements&uot; with the City of Natchez.

&uot;Miss-Lou Magazine has been critical of the current and previous city administrations at times, and I think it’s natural for politicians to want to retaliate – but it may not be legal for them to do so,&uot; Rinaldi said. &uot;I don’t take it personally.&uot;

According to David Hudson, a staff researcher at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, Supreme Court decisions have already addressed the issue of littering with regard to newspapers, pamphlets and the like.

In Martin v. City of Struthers, a 1943 case that references a similar 1939 decision, the court ruled the First Amendment &uot;embraces the right to distribute literature and necessarily protects the right to receive it. The privilege may not be withdrawn even if it creates the minor nuisance for a community of cleaning litter from its streets.&uot;

&uot;If this is an attempt by the board to silence a critic, as some allege, then it may rise to the level of abuse of power. The board would be wise to listen to its attorney and rethink its position, so we can all move forward and focus on other matters.&uot;

While she did vote to change the litter ordinance, Arceneaux said she voted against issuing the citations.

&uot;I consider those two pieces to be news,&uot; Arceneaux said. &uot;I know that there’s a First Amendment right, so I had a ‘nay’ vote on any papers being served.&uot;

Rinaldi said he will continue to print the Miss-Lou Magazine and believes he will eventually win in court.

&uot;The intent is to put us out of business, but we’ll continue to fight the good fight,&uot; he said. &uot;There’s adequate legal justification for our position and none for the city’s position, and I believe the courts will eventually come around.&uot;

Readers react

Readers also took issue with the citations.

&uot;They (city officials) are citing Peter Rinaldi for reporting the facts and truth of city government and of how they’re spending the city’s dollar,&uot; said Henry Watts. &uot;In my opinion, it’s a violation of the First Amendment right of the citizens.&uot;

Similarly, Realtor Bob Haltom – who advertises in both publications – said he thinks his rights as an advertiser and reader have been infringed upon if neither publication can be delivered in the manner they are now.

&uot;It’s an abridgement of the First Amendment,&uot; Haltom said.

Massey said the citation is about littering, not about the First Amendment.

&uot;This has nothing to do with the content (of the publications),&uot; Massey said. &uot;It has something to do with throwing this in people’s yards.&uot;

Such citations are &uot;not a violation of free speech, mainly because when I walk into my yard, my yard is my domicile, my private property, and I don’t subscribe to these things,&uot; Massey said.

But Fred Middleton, chairman of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, said he believes it is unfair for the city to dictate whether residents will receive the publications.

&uot;It should be up to the resident to decide whether they want to request not to receive it,&uot; he said.

The citations and the ordinance itself are &uot;not anti-business,&uot; Massey said. &uot;If I wanted to be a second newspaper in town, I should get people to subscribe to it.&uot;

Democrat Editor Kerry Whipple contributed to this report.