Nashville’s newspaper that benefits the homeless has received several citations for sales on street corners in the affluent city of Brentwood, prompting the paper to appeal a previous court ruling in defense of its First Amendment rights.
The Contributor, Nashville’s street newspaper sold by 400 homeless or former homeless people for $1 each at street corners across the area, has exploded in circulation during the last year, expanding far beyond the city’s core.
Locations targeted by vendors have included the suburban streets of Williamson County. But between January and March, Brentwood officials handed down seven citations to vendors selling papers inside Brentwood city limits for violating a law that bans the sale of items at public right-of-ways.
A Brentwood judge upheld the ordinance in a court ruling delivered March 17, forcing The Contributor to pay a collective fee of approximately $200. But on Thursday, attorney James Rose, representing The Contributor , filed eight appeals in Williamson County Circuit Court claiming the ordinance is unconstitutional.
“We really feel this is a freedom of the press issue,” said Tasha French, executive director of The Contributor. “It’s a First Amendment issue that we’re dealing with, and so we have appealed those cases up to Williamson County out of Brentwood.
“We’re looking toward going back to court within the next few months,” she said.
City of Brentwood attorney Roger Horner said codes and police officials warned the seven vendors of the city’s ordinance several times before writing them up. He said the city’s code restricts the selling or displaying of goods on public sidewalks or streets.
“We’re not surprised,” Horner said of Thursday’s appeals. “They had made it clear they would appeal.
“We’re certainly not trying to deny anybody their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We’re not trying to ban the sale of newspapers in Brentwood. But, you have to take public safety into consideration, and that’s why this ordinance is there, to avoid interference with traffic.”
French said the paper doesn’t assign territory to any of its vendors, allowing sellers to pick their own street corners. She called the expansion outside Davidson County a “natural progression.” In the weeks following the citations, she said vendors “may or may not be” returning to Brentwood.
“We’ve been very open with them, that if you go to this area you may receive a citation,” French said. “At the same time, we believe you’re within your First Amendment rights to be selling this paper on public property.”
Farther south in Williamson County, the city of Franklin has a similar law that prohibits people from using public streets and sidewalks for the sale of goods and services, a restriction Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey said is rooted in concerns for public safety.
Franklin city officials have approached several Contributor vendors to make them aware of the law. Unlike in Brentwood, Franklin officials haven’t cited them.
So far, Stuckey said vendors have chosen to comply when approached to leave. Asked whether the city would enforce citations if vendors continue to sell on street corners, Stuckey said it’s always an option.
“This is an issue that really isn’t focused on The Contributor,” Stuckey said. “It’s focused on a law we’ve had in place since 1976.
“It’s public space,” he said. “That’s for people to converse on their vehicles and bikes, and walk on the sidewalks, and that kind of stuff ... We’ve been through this with other entities as well, everything from somebody promoting selling hot dogs, that kind of thing, or somebody promoting their deli.”