New town law puts limits on littering while keeping Constitution in mind
COPAKE—In an effort to stem the rising tide of unsightly “flyers, brochures and similar items being widely tossed about” the Town Board enacted a new Anti-Littering Local Law at its September 10 meeting.
Beginning back in May, town officials began receiving complaints about Columbia-Greene Media’s Shop & Find publication being strewn along roadsides, in driveways, on lawns, porches, walkways and around mailboxes. The Shop & Find is a free, folded broad-sheet-sized publication containing advertisements both on its pages and in the form of inserted multi-page advertising flyers with a smattering of police blotter—all packaged in an open-ended plastic bag.
Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer was intent on putting a law in place to prevent the further “trashing of our area” and urged residents to boycott businesses that advertise in the publication.
Contacted by The Columbia Paper for a June 18 story about the matter, Columbia-Greene Media publisher Mark Vinciguerra said the publication was protected under the First Amendment.
The new law drafted by Town Attorney Ken Dow, notes that “action to eliminate or mitigate” the “increasing litter problem” must not “run afoul of the Constitutional right to free speech, which includes the distribution of communication.”
The new law “fully protects speech rights” while prohibiting papers, letters or flyers from being thrown or placed on lawns, driveways, walkways or on the ground. These items must be instead securely placed within, affixed or attached to any residence including any porch, steps, awning, doorway, vestibule or in a receptacle so they won’t be subject to the elements or blown into a water body.
Anyone who is caught violating the law by illegally tossing five or more papers at five or more residences within 24 hours will have to pay a $500 fine and for every additional violation in excess of five will have to pay an additional $250.
The law was adopted by unanimous board vote and copies of it were sent to Columbia-Greene Media, local law enforcement and the county attorney.
Other matters were also put to rest at the meeting. Councilwoman Susan Winchell-Sweeney made a motion to require all town employees to take ethics training, noting it is strongly recommended by the State Comptroller. She said that while all town employees are bound by the town’s code of ethics, nowhere in town policy is there a requirement for ethics training.
Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler agreed that the Town Board should endorse the idea, noting she was not saying that employees currently have “bad or good ethics,” but that there are sometimes issues that arise that employees have not considered.
In a similar discussion last month, Ms. Mettler and Ms. Winchell-Sweeney urged the Town Board to require training for members of non-elected boards in how to deal with the public in a respectful manner. The motion was defeated by a three-to-two vote.
The matter of ethics training also fell to a similar fate. Supervisor Nayer noted that employees would have to be paid for their time to take such training and in the case of Highway Department employees, the union representative would have to be consulted.
“I’m not in favor of more bureaucratic red tape,” he said.
The resulting vote was three opposed to two in favor of requiring the training.
Another issue raised by Councilwomen Winchell-Sweeney and Mettler back in May—lighting districts—also came to vote this month.
The two councilwoman compiled a report back then that called into question whether the town was being accurately charged for street lights and whether all the street lights the town was charged for actually existed.
After completing an inventory at the town’s request, NYSEG reported in August that the number of lights the town is billed for is accurate.
At the September meeting Ms. Mettler again said lighting districts are complicated, have become obsolete and lighting-district taxes are unfairly imposed on a small number of taxpayers.
She motioned said the town should have one lighting district that encompasses the whole town and should be paid for by all taxpayers.
Ms. Winchell-Sweeney seconded the motion, noting “the lights are for the benefit of the travelling public.”
Mr. Nayer said if everyone paid for the lights then everyone would want one and then it would become a budget issue that would cause the town to go over this year’s state 1% tax increase cap.
Councilwoman Terry Sullivan said, “A lot of taxes are unfairly distributed. I would love to see more time, effort and money going into public health issues.”
Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons said she serves as a voice for the people who elected her and she has not seen the support for this.
The motion was defeated by a three-to-two vote.
The board did agree, however, that a hedge that has become “monstrous and out-of-control” at the town park should be removed. Deemed a “security issue,” the now 15-foot-tall shrub, which is “aesthetically not nice” obstructs the view of police when they shine their patrol car headlights into the park at night to check for vandals or other criminal or mischievous activity, which has been a problem in the past.
The Highway Department will be enlisted to do the deed and $650 will be spent for a split-rail fence to be put in its place.
The Town Board meets again Thursday, October 8 at 7 p.m.
To contact Diane Valden email