Nashville's homeless issues paper director says freedom of press at stake in Brentwood battle

Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:05pm

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.” 

56 Comments on this post:

By: courier37027 on 4/24/11 at 8:34

NashvilleGator, anyone, why is it a "problem" to live where you want to live, and be able to afford it? Let's say there are two families, similar incomes, similar demographics, same house price, square feet, yard, etc.. One family lives in Brentwood, the other lives in (pick any recently gentrified neighborhood--Germantown, East Nashville, Sylvan Park, etc.). Does the gentrified neighborhood family have a higher moral standing only because of their proximity to homeless people?

By: NashvilleGator on 4/25/11 at 12:45

It's not a "problem" to live where you want to live and be able to afford it. MY point is that Nashville isn't making a stink about vendors selling the paper...BRENTWOOD is.

It has nothing to do with "moral standing" and everything to do with people coming up with thousands of excuses that boil down to ONE thing: THEY don't want to see homeless people in Brentwood...or it would appear anywhere in Williamson county, to be frank.

Living in your little bubble of privilege in suburbia is well and good...but people need to get their heads out of the sand and realize that others aren't as fortunate as they are and DO have to do something like sell papers to make money.

Funny thing is, I bet some of those vendors used to live/work in the Brentwood/Franklin area before they were homeless. Funny how people who used to talk to you in line at the grocery store will shoo you away once the money goes away.

By: Editor on 4/25/11 at 3:46

Don't force a community to accept street vendors and then call that freedom of speech. Where is the freedom of that community to be free of blocked traffic and "unsightly" street vendors?

By: NashvilleGator on 4/25/11 at 7:25

Blocked traffic exists without them.

Are you going to personally police and stop the people not paying attention because they're talking to a passenger, yelling at children, talking on their phones or staring into space? No? Didn't think so. Those are the people who cause more blocked traffic than anything in the Brentwood area. Oh, and the people who can't, for the LIFE of them, figure out what lane they need to be in (though they've resided in the same area for YEARS) and decide to hold up lanes to cut others off.

And "unsightly"? My my. Aren't we pretentious? And you know what they say....an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure!

Editor, I CERTAINLY hope none of you and yours EVER find themselves in hard times. It would sure be awful to need help from someone and be surrounded by a bunch of people as "caring" as you are.

By: yucchhii on 4/26/11 at 1:07

This is what it boils down to: It's NOT the papers fault that the homeless population is growing and that more new vendors means the need for MORE places to sell. BUT, I do agree that vendors need to be willing to be lawful in where and HOW they sell to the public. Back in the old days, there were magazine stands where the local paper was among the periodicals being sold. If someone wanted to purchase a paper, then they needed to park their car in an appropriate place and approach the vendor. I do agree that this does NOT involve the freedom of speech amendment!! I don't see how! If someone does see how, then please show me that I am wrong. Brentwood is a city that needs to keep their city free from people who will be inconsiderate. This is NOT say that all vendors are that! If you are NOT willing to work WITH the laws then you need to change them first before you break them!! If you Don't care, then I say...THAT'S why the world is the way it is, because of people who DON'T care. Then you have the gall to bitch about it all later. Guess what, I don't want to hear it!!!

By: Irish Lad on 5/2/11 at 10:12

@ all of those who cite public safety and traffic as concerns... Notice that nobody complains including the City of Brentwood when non-profits stand with buckets at intersections taking donations. Each time the light turns red these people walk through the stopped cars to take donations. I admit they are not selling anything. But what is the difference regarding safety? And how about the groups who put on car wash fund raisers? They too stand at intersections with signs advertising their event close by.