published February 6, 2001
Citizen group sues
Marion over curfew on canvassing
COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
COLUMBUS - The
state’s largest environmental and consumer group sued the city of
Marion yesterday, accusing city officials of violating the federal
Constitution by slapping a curfew and a registration fee on
activists who go door to door handing out flyers and soliciting
The lawsuit, filed by Ohio Citizen Action in U.S.
District Court in Cleveland, says the 7 p.m. curfew and a
requirement that each canvasser pay a $7.50 registration fee has
hindered efforts to educate Marion residents about pollution at the
River Valley Schools complex. "What is the city of Marion afraid
of?" said Simona Vaclavikova, program director at Citizen Action’s
office in Columbus.
Citizen Action said that in early 1999,
Marion city hall began to enforce a 7 p.m. curfew, as controversy
grew over the River Valley middle and high schools.
schools were built in 1962 on 78 acres where the military used to
burn or bury tons of highly toxic chemicals.
Citizen Action have gone door to door in the neighborhoods around
the school complex, but it is not within Marion’s city
The River Valley school district has signed an
agreement with the state and federal governments to build new
schools, but they won’t open until 2003.
Citizen Action has
called for the students to be relocated immediately and has
criticized Governor Taft and state regulators for their handling of
an environmental investigation.
Yesterday, Citizen Action
officials stopped short of directly accusing Marion officials of
trying to squelch attention about the River Valley schools
"It is very interesting that it started in 1999,
when we never had problems before," said Ms. Vaclavikova. "People
can draw their own links."
Marion Mayor Jack Kellogg declined
comment yesterday. He referred questions to the city’s law director,
Mark Russell, who did not return a message seeking
The lawsuit asks U.S. District Court Judge David
Katz of Toledo for injunctions to stop Marion from enforcing a
30-year-old ordinance against Citizen Action, which the group said
is aimed at "commercial enterprises."
The ordinance defines a
"solicitor, canvasser, or peddler" as the "selling, taking or
attempting to take orders for purchases of goods, wares and
merchandise, services or tangible personal property of any nature
The suit says Citizen Action canvassed in Marion
for several years before 1999 until 9 p.m. and without charge. The
group submitted a list of canvassers to the police department before
going door to door, Ms. Vaclavikova said.
In early 1999,
Marion city officials informed Citizen Action that it would begin to
enforce a 7 p.m. curfew against the group - unless it agreed not to
Attorneys for Citizen Action cited several
federal court decisions declaring that curfews are unconstitutional
if they halt canvassing for political or civic purposes by 9
"It is clear that Marion must show either a convincing
need for early curfews or the existence of meaningful alternatives,"
wrote Edward Icove, a Cleveland attorney representing Citizen
Action. "Marion cannot meet this heavy constitutional burden of
An affidavit from Sandy Buchanan, Citizen Action’s
executive director, says the group has tested alternatives to
door-to-door canvassing, such as direct mail. However, "None of them
pay their own way," the affidavit says. Ms. Buchanan said Citizen
Action does not accept Marion’s argument that some citizens would be
"disturbed" if canvassing is allowed until 9 p.m.