Asheville city ordinance doesn’t prohibit handing out political fliers

Earlier this month, the Asheville Police Department arrested Helen Roberts for passing out fliers as part of Occupy Asheville, claiming it violated a city ordinance. The charges against Roberts have since been dropped, and City Attorney Bob Oast tells Xpress that the ordinance she was arrested under only deals with commercial activity — not handing out political fliers in public spaces.

Following review of video surveillance from a Nov. 2 Occupy Asheville march, the APD issued a warrant for Roberts’ arrest based on an alleged violation of a city of Asheville ordinance that reads as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any person to advertise by the distribution of samples or printed matter within the city, except as provided in the annual license and privilege tax ordinance.

However, the charges were dropped soon after the arrest. When asked about the case, APD spokesperson Lt. Wally Welch later wrote to Xpress that “the APD Command Staff and City Legal conferred with DA Ron Moore reference her charges; and based on his interpretation of the City Ordinance the decision was made to dismiss the charges against her.”

So what does the ordinance prohibit?

“The annual license and privilege tax ordinance was adopted a number of years ago. What that is really directed at is the distribution of product samples,” Oast explains. “What’s the city’s privilege license tax ordinance says is that every person, firm or corporation distributing samples, circulars, handbills or other printed matter from house to house or person to person anywhere within the corporate limits of the city of Asheville will have to pay a license tax.

“So it’s really directed at commercial activity,” not political activity, Oast concludes.

Above the local level, the U.S. Supreme Court, in cases like Lovell v. City of Griffin and Hague v. CIO has generally upheld broad protections for citizens and groups distributing leaflets in traditional public forums, like public squares or sidewalks.



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6 thoughts on “Asheville city ordinance doesn’t prohibit handing out political fliers

  1. LOKEL

    So how many other so-called “laws” is the APD enforcing that aren’t applicable ….

    shouldn’t the LEO’s be FULLY AWARE of the laws (especially a municipal law) they are charged with enforcing ….

    If I remember correctly this young lady was actually locked-up, overnight (or maybe longer) without access to essential medications, and now we discover that that she wasn’t even breaking any law!

    That’s known as “unlawful incarceration” … hello, ACLU!

    Why wouldn’t the magistrate have know that the law had not been properly applied to this individual.

  2. helenrosey27

    I don’t know who could have interpreted the ordinance to having anything to do with what i was/am doing. Political flyers do not equal product samples. Pretty simple.

    • Barry Summers

      Helen – Were you able to keep a copy of the arrest warrant? Do you know specifically who at APD ordered your arrest? I asked Capt. Daryl Fisher, after Cecil brought it up at a City Council Public Safety Committee briefing. All he said was that it was a patrol officer. I stated my surprise that a low-level policeman could issue an arrest warrant without a Supervisor or a consult with an APD attorney or a prosecutor, but apparently they can.

  3. Barry Summers

    Mind you, the video footage they’re referring to was shot and presumably replayed by Lynn “Hug them around the neck with a rope” Fraser. This was the day that she posted her infamous ‘dirtasses’ comments on her Facebook page:

    …after the Occupy protestors had, in her words, “wasted three hours of my time.”

    It was the review of this hostile and punitive APD employee’s footage that led some unnamed patrol officer to issue an unconstitutional arrest warrant for Helen Roberts.

    Do we get to know specifically who ordered this suppression of protected free speech? Was there any discipline, or at the very least, additional training ordered for the APD employee who thinks that handing out political flyers in the public square in America should land you in a jail cell?

    I’m just askin’…

  4. Barry Summers

    BTW, a side tangent, but one that I think is related:

    Q: Can I leave a comment if I don’t have a Facebook account?

    A: After the switch is made to the entire site, anyone wishing to post a comment will need an active Facebook account. If you don

  5. Dionysis

    “The AC-T, and I suppose all Gannett papers now, restrict their comment sections to Facebook subscribers only. So much for free access to one more whole section of our communityЕ”

    Sorry for veering off-topic of the article, but to this side tangent…have you checked the AC-T articles out today? I read six (all about local matters) and there is not ONE comment. Nada. When they announced this change, I predicted comments would “drop like a stone in water.” That seems to be the case.

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