ROXBURY, NJ - Roxbury's existing ordinances "will not serve the township well" if the town decides to fight the tossing on lawns and driveways of unrequested newspapers, according to the township manager.
In a June 23 report to the Roxbury Mayor and Council, new township manager John Shepherd said his opinion was based on a quick review, by Roxbury Township Attorney Anthony Bucco, of Roxbury's current laws and alternative ordinances that might help Roxbury fight the practice.
One of these ordinances comes from Butler Borough, which prohibits the “unsolicited distribution of “newspapers, shoppers and other like printed matter” to persons who have not “ordered, subscribed to or requested” them. Roxbury’s current legislation is much less specific, prohibiting distribution of “any handbill, advertisement or other writing upon any private premises.”
In its current form, the Roxbury law does prohibit circulation of these “writings” to those that have already canceled delivery or to private residents who have posted signs that read: “No Trespassing,” “No Peddlers or Agents,” “No Advertisement” or any similar message, but falls short of addressing all unsolicited delivery.
"Mr. Bucco does not believe that the above-stated language will serve the township well in any enforcement action," Shepherd wrote. He directed the council to review the Butler matter, a case that Bucco litigated and which ended in a settlement between the municipality and the newspaper."If desired by the council, this type of language might fare better in an enforcement action by Roxbury," wrote the manager.
Under Butler’s ordinance, all newspapers must show on the front page the name and address of the party responsible for that paper’s circulation. This legal requirement offers a way for recipients to easily cancel delivery of unwanted newspapers or circulars and, unlike Roxbury, mandates a $100 fine for those who violate any part of the law.
The absence of consequences for those who defy Roxbury’s law could make enforcement difficult, Shepherd said.
Bucco’s report to the Mayor and Council came after Roxbury resident Emil Ruesch complained at a June 13 council meeting about the piles of unwanted newspapers that have plagued him and his neighbors for years. The topic was brought up again at the council’s June 27 meeting.
Reusch said the free newspapers are a form of littering, and the resulting garbage ruins his view of Lake Musconetcong.
“The pages are found in the lake,” he said. “They are going down our storm drains. They are adding pollution in town that we don’t need. It has to be stopped.”
Piles of regularly delivered freebie publications that are littered across front yards, porches and driveways can pose a security risk for those on vacation, he said, a point that was acknowledged by some on the council. “Any burglar with an ounce of brains” can see when a resident is away, Reusch said.
Banning freebie circulation might conflict with a newspaper’s Constitutional right to free speech, said Roxbury Councilman Fred Hall during the June 13 council meeting, but the practice can also conflict with residents' ability to protect their homes.
"Ultimately, this matter is a policy decision for council," said Shepherd in his note. “You need to weigh the rights of a free press with the rights of private property owners and their right to enjoy their property as they wish.”