Free speech vs. litter in Aurora

A public hearing about a proposed Aurora ordinance that would regulate the process of distributing fliers, advertisements and newspapers gave way to speeches about First Amendment rights Tuesday night in city hall.

More than 25 people signed up to voice their opinions about the ordinance, which would amend the section of Aurora's city code relating to peddlers, canvassers and solicitors.

The ordinance would require people soliciting for charity or canvassing door-to-door to apply for a permit from the city at least 30 days before distributing materials. It also would prohibit distribution of all written material regardless of content to vacant properties, on vehicles, in places with “no trespassing signs and on public surfaces such as sidewalks, lampposts, lights and railings.

“I urge you to weigh this ordinance carefully and if this ordinance needs to be passed for litter concerns that it doesn't infringe on free speech, said Matt Yonke of Fox Valley Families against Planned Parenthood.

And while not everyone who signed up actually spoke, the majority stated their opposition or pointed out what they saw as flaws in the proposed ordinance, saying it is too broad, may hurt small businesses and may even threaten the first amendment right to free speech.

“I am not in favor of the ordinance, said Connie Rizo, owner of a translation and transcription service in Aurora. “I don't think it would be helpful to my business, Rizo Resources, at all.

Those who spoke in favor of the ordinance noted it would decrease the amount of trash citizens and maintenance crews have to clean from streets and sidewalks. Unwanted advertising from pizza shops and other businesses frequently clutters the streets and sidewalks of Earl Castner's Aurora condominium association, he said at the hearing.

“It imposes an unfair burden and expense on our community by them trying to improve their business, said Castner, a resident of the Willows of Fox Valley on the city's far east side. “We need those funds for many other things, not to clean up things other people throw out.

If the city is trying to address a garbage issue, it should not do so with a broad and far-reaching ordinance affecting citizens, nonprofit organizations, newspaper companies and local governmental groups including park districts, said Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League in Aurora.

“Newspaper trash is a real concern, Scheidler said. “But trashing the First Amendment isn't the way to solve it.