Unsubscribed newspapers banned in Vidalia

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

VIDALIA — The Vidalia Board of Aldermen unanimously voted Monday to notify the publishers of free newspapers not to distribute them at residences in Vidalia any more.

The aldermen contend the newspapers violate the city’s litter ordinance.

Though the publications were not mentioned by name at Tuesday’s meeting, in a March meeting, the board first broached the topic of stopping the distribution of The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide, which is published by the same company as The Natchez Democrat, Natchez Newspapers Inc., and Miss-Lou Magazine, which is published independently by Peter Rinaldi.

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Alderman Tron McCoy brought up the issue Tuesday. He alluded to the issue as a litter matter before asking City Attorney Scott McLemore to discuss it.

“We had discussed it at an earlier meeting, and somebody talked about how (the newspapers are) clogging up some of the drains,” McLemore said.

Mayor Hyram Copeland said the move was “not a vendetta against any magazine or paper, period.”

Copeland said he gets “phone call after phone call” about the newspapers.

“(Residents) don’t want it, and they didn’t buy it,” he said.

“If we are going to let them do it, then everybody who has got a store throughout the area and wants to advertise their products and goods (that way), they can do it.”

The actual vote for action was unclear, with the aldermen voting on a “motion to enforce the ordinance,” but afterward Copeland said the city would send correspondence.

“We can send a letter to these individuals and companies and tell them we no longer will allow that (distribution),” Copeland said. “If they want to take us to court, as some have already indicated they will, then so be it.”

The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide and Miss-Lou Magazine faced a similar challenge in Natchez in the early 2000s. The matter went to municipal court and ended in January 2003 in favor of the publications.

Subscribers to The Natchez Democrat do not receive The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide.

Kevin Cooper, publisher of The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide, said Tuesday night he would take the matter under advisement.

“We will await the official request of Mr. Copeland and consult our legal team before we decide our course of action,” Cooper said. “It is interesting, however, that the mayor suggests he’s received numerous phone calls over the matter. We have not received a single call about the matter, not one, from an individual resident or from the city since the matter last came up in March.

“We would welcome evidence that our products are in some ways stopping up drainage ditches. That suggestion is a bit absurd,” Cooper said.

“Equally so is his quick denial that the move is not a vendetta,” he said. “Clearly, something other than drainage concerns and litter are at play here.”

Cooper said anyone who is receiving The Miss-Lou Buyer’s Guide and does not wish delivery is encouraged to simply let us know by calling our customer service line at 601-446-3556. In addition, Cooper said he would welcome evidence that the newspapers have actually caused drainage concerns.

“Our staff and our hardworking group of independent carriers, who earn money by delivering those newspapers, all monitor their areas and respond to any deliveries that are not picked up or any complaints that are made,” Cooper said.

Rinaldi could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said in March he makes a point not to deliver to empty houses or residences with yards that appear unkempt because his business model does not allow for waste.

“I am not saying that once in a while there is not a newspaper in the gutter in Vidalia, but I monitor the streets, and if I see a paper in the street I stop and pick it up and put it in the log not to deliver there,” Rinaldi said at the time. “I am happy to talk to anybody about any concerns they have, I know what the law is and we are doing delivery properly, and if anyone has an issue they can call me personally and I will handle it personally.”

In other news, the board voted to start the process of purchasing a new ladder truck for the Vidalia Fire Department, including seeking 15-year financing.

The request came from Fire Chief Johnny Evans, who said the truck is needed for the city to maintain its fire rating of 3 on a 10-point scale, where lower ratings are better.

Losing its current rating could mean an increase in insurance costs for city residents, Evans said.

Concordia Economic Development Director Heather Malone said having a good fire rating is also good for recruiting business.

“Community competitiveness is a huge factor when a company is looking to locate here, so I think it would be a huge benefit to do what we have to do to maintain that level 3 or improve it,” she said. “This is just one extra item to make sure we improve our competitiveness.”

Copeland said when the city talks with industries, one of the things officials emphasize is the 3 rating.

City Accountant Ashley Anderson said the city will have sufficient funds to cover the $70,000 annual payments, she said, and no penalty would be incurred if the city pays it off early.