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Posted on Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Citing free speech rights, Groundcover News defies Ypsilanti Township over ban on paper peddling

By Tom Perkins

In early October, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees told representatives of the “street newspaper” Groundcover News their vendors didn’t have permission to sell newspapers in the township.

Three months later, on Jan. 15, vendors working for the paper defied the township board and began selling papers at fast food restaurant exits along a stretch of Washtenaw Avenue in Ypsilanti Township.

Susan Beckett, Groundcover's publisher, says vendors will continue to sell there and told the organization is prepared for a legal confrontation with the township. She said barring Groundcover’s vendors’ from selling could violate their free speech rights and suggested the American Civil Liberties Union could get involved.

By a 6-1 vote at their October 9 meeting, the Board of Trustees rejected Groundcover’s request for an exemption to an ordinance prohibiting a wide range of peddling on public property. Officials say the exemption is essentially a “peddlers permit”.

Board members expressed concerns that vendors could cause traffic problems, fears that overaggressive vendors would cause conflicts, and doubts about whether the business model would work in Ypsilanti Township, where there is little foot traffic.


A recent issue of Groundcover

Tom Perkins | For

Groundcover representatives said sales would take place on public egresses and sidewalks at exits to fast food restaurants or other businesses along Washtenaw Avenue.

The paper is partially produced by and mostly sold by “housing insecure” residents, which Groundcover defines as people who are homeless, people who are unemployed and at risk of eviction, or people receiving government assistance but still in need of additional income.

Vendors purchase copies of Groundcover from the organization for 25 cents and sell them for a suggested donation price of $1.

Those selling in Ypsilanti Township risk a misdemeanor citation from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, said Mike Radzik, director of the township’s office of community standards. But he said the ordinance would be enforced on a complaint basis, meaning ordinance officers would not go out of their way to find Groundcover vendors.

On Wednesday, one Groundcover vendor was selling in the township. Beckett said cold weather makes it more challenging for vendors to sell papers, and there is no downtown area in Ypsilanti Township to provide them with access to high concentrations of pedestrian traffic.

She said that means vendors must attract business from motorists, but she said the borders between municipalities on Washtenaw Avenue are confusing. Groundcover has permission to sell papers in the neighboring areas of Pittsfield Township and the City of Ypsilanti.

“We want our vendors to be able to go to Washtenaw without fear that they are accidentally straying into hostile territory,” Beckett said.

She said vendors need to be near each other for safety reasons, and the Burger King just west of Golfside Road on Washtenaw is the only spot along the corridor that is practical for sales in Pittsfield Township. She said the Walgreen’s at the corner of Hewitt and Washtenaw is the only good sales position for vendors in the City of Ypsilanti. Leaving those two locations separated by the township creates safety concerns, Beckett said.

“What we want to do is have a nucleus of people out there and nearby, so somebody could text or yell to someone else if there is a problem,” Beckett said.

On Wednesday, a Groundcover vendor was selling on the sidewalk at the Wendy’s exit on Washtenaw Avenue between Golfside and Hewitt before management there asked the vendor to leave, Beckett said. The vendor moved to the nearby Taco Bell exit driveway, but was unsuccessful because of the weather and logistical issues. But the vendor plans to return to that area at least once a week.

Beckett said Groundcover will help with vendors’ legal defense, and that her lawyers told her the ACLU would be interested in the case.

“We wanted to work cooperatively (with the township) and they declined,” Beckett said. “There have been many rulings on free speech, which includes the right to distribute papers and to ask for money. It has been well established that those are rights and they can’t take them away on public property, which is what (the township) did.”

Ypsilanti Township Attorney Doug Winters disagreed that the township was violating any free speech rights and stressed that there were safety concerns over having vendors sell along the busy Washtenaw Avenue corridor.

“I think right now there is a balancing act. I don’t think the township did anything that is inappropriate, and it just sounds like they want some engagement with us,” Winters said. “It seems like having a court case for the sake of having a court case isn’t a good use of anyone’s resources."

Radzik disagreed that the township wasn’t cooperative and said Groundcover hasn’t contacted the township since the October Board of Trustees meeting. At that meeting, board members asked representatives from Groundcover to show their model could be successful in Pittsfield Township and return to the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees in a year.

“There was a request to create an exemption to the law, and after consideration the board rejected it. There was nothing uncooperative about the level of discussion,” Radzik said.

He said the township’s peddler’s ordinance is like many other municipalities’ ordinances around the country, and the board has granted exceptions to it in the past.

“If Groundcover feels as though the ordinance is unconstitutional for whatever reason, then they should challenge it if they feel it's worth it and in their best interest” Radzik said, adding that the township has worked with the ACLU on other issues in the past.

“We would work with (the ACLU) on this issue and I would welcome them into the discussion,” he said.

In response to concerns about borders between the municipalities, Radzik said the border between Ypsilanti Township and Pittsfield Township is clearly defined by Golfiside Road. He said the City of Ypsilanti governs the northeast corner of the intersection at Hewitt Road and Washtenaw Avenue, and Ypsilanti Township governs the other three corners.

“I’d be happy to provide them with a map or they can check the Washtenaw County GIS Web site - it’s free,” Radzik said.

Around 100 vendors sell in Dexter, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti. A quarter of those sell daily, according to Groundcover.

The paper was launched in June 2010 and had a circulation of 3,500 several months ago, but that has grown to 6,000. Groundcover, a 501c3 nonprofit, provides vendors with incentives based on the number of papers they sell. Some vendors set up at one spot regularly while others change locations, and most sell during the afternoon and evening. Volunteers with the paper and local community members contribute articles, poetry and essays to the paper.


Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

It's ok to carry AK-47s in Ypsilanti Township because of the respect for the 2nd Amendment but not to sell newspapers protected by the 1st Amendment? Apparently the Township should get an attorney who has read the Bill of Rights during their legal training.

Unusual Suspect

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:56 a.m.

I read one of these once. It was full of the usual liberal and progressive drivel and not worth reading. It wasn't "news," but all editorial . I really miss having something to sit and read like this, especially with local information in it, but in its current flavor it's not readable.

Real Life

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:28 a.m.

I vehemently disagree with the left wing propaganda of Groundcover "News", and recognize that it is just a sort of higher level panhandling. That being said, banning "sales" is just asking for Constitutional retribution. Just because an opinion or point of view is ill informed and harmful doesn't mean it should or can be banned.


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 2:22 a.m.

Ypsi Twp Board has it's head back in Royalist 18th Century England! Geeze People, dint yins ken that in 1789 we Ratified the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that Guaranteed to All Americans the Freedom of Press? I dint ken where "YpsiGirl4Ever" is coming from, but she certainly needs to go back and Read the Constitution of the United States of America. It appears the newspaper "Groundcover" is writing stuff that she and Ypsi Twp politicians don't like. I tell yins, the courts Will Not Permit Ypsi Twp politicians to suppress "Groundcover." You can take that to the bank and you will pay a lot of Twp Taxpayer dollars for the cost of your Super Silly Lawsuit!


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 10:58 p.m.

Piney, You must work for Groundcover. If you do, and what's your response above is the level of writing in their news resource, I can see why the organization sells papers on the streets. Public property not privately owned in Ypsilanti Township is public property. The Township owns this property and has rights of first refusal. Reviewing the "Michigan Property Search" database --linked below-- can clear up any private/public property confusion for Groundcover. As for what "Groundcover" writes, personally, I have no idea. Never purchased the newspaper nor do I plan on it. Either way, if their contractors are peddling and/or soliciting residents on Ypsilanti Township public lands, or private property without permission of the owner and haven't obtained an solicitation permit, these contractors are violating Ypsilanti Township's Ordinances. Additionally, the contractors are engaged in peddling, a chargeable misdemeanor offense in this community.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:43 p.m.

So under your first amendment rights you don't like being told what you can or cannot say, but it is somehow OK to violate people's choice of fireams that they would like to own, short of fully automatic machine guns, etc..........


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

We need more print newspapers! The online newspapers for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area are a joke and are biased.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 6:48 p.m.

How unfortunate the Ypsilanti Township government cannot instead focus on real crime and urban blight instead of some down on their luck people trying to obtain a permit to sell a few newspapers. And, how about some job creation?

dading dont delete me bro

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

nicholas, they are kicking butt on blight. ive seen improvements within days on what i report. i see you read this paper, you don't see all the houses and trailer parks getting knocked down?


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : midnight

The Board of Trustees HAVE forced hard, on blight. There are Plenty of archived articles are available on Ann written by the author of this article, no less. As for crime, did you read what the Township Officials, working with determined residents in the West Willow Community and WSCO did in that area? Talk about crime reduction! What has occurred in West Willow is noteworthy to say the least. Finally, on job creation, yes more needs to be done in that area. This is why Ypsilanti Township needs a Economic Development Commission, made up of residents willing to serve and promote POSITIVE aspects of the Township to potential businesses. Maybe the Board will adopt this idea, in the future. Either way, none of the above excuses Groundcover from defying Township Statues and Ordinances, and should be held accountable for their actions in doing so.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 6:31 p.m.

Newspapers are NOT like other products and should NOT be regulated like t-shirt or firecracker sales. Newspapers are the voice of the people. I'm sure there were those that wanted to silence Thomas Paine too. As for the manager at Wendy's, they're apparently in need of an education. The sidewalks and the area between the sidewalks and roadways are part of the county road right-of-way and thus NOT the property of Wendy's or anybody else. If the vendor was standing on the sidewalk selling their papers, then the management of Wendy's was WAY OUT OF LINE in trying to force the vendor to stop. If the facts are as I interpret them, then the owner of that Wendy's owes a big public apology for harassing people in public property NEAR their restaurant.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

"I think right now there is a balancing act. I don't think the township did anything that is inappropriate, and it just sounds like they want some engagement with us," Winters said. "It seems like having a court case for the sake of having a court case isn't a good use of anyone's resources." And... "There was a request to create an exemption to the law, and after consideration the board rejected it. There was nothing uncooperative about the level of discussion," Radzik said. He said the township's peddler's ordinance is like many other municipalities' ordinances around the country, and the board has granted exceptions to it in the past. "If Groundcover feels as though the ordinance is unconstitutional for whatever reason, then they should challenge it if they feel it's worth it and in their best interest" Radzik said, adding that the township has worked with the ACLU on other issues in the past. Sounds as if Groundcover doesn't have a leg to stand on. Generally, communities don't prefer to use revenue towards fighting cases in a Court of Law. Yet, in this incident, it appears Groundcover wants to challenge Ypsilanti Township Board responsibly to provide a SAFE environment for its' residents and taxpayers. If Court Action is necessary, I believe the Township Legal Resources will win or clearly define the Language of our 1st Amendment with the ACLU for Groundcover's understanding, since they don't respect this reasonable ruling by made Township Officials.

Random Man

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.

Truly a waste of tax payer money by Ypsilanti. Plus heck, it may be the only positive job increase they have had in years.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

""We want our vendors to be able to go to Washtenaw without fear that they are accidentally straying into hostile territory," Beckett said. " Flimsiest excuse ever, embarrassing for her/them. Read maps, maybe?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Really? And Groundcover took "their cause" to the Press to Challenge the Township's authority to provide a safe environment for its' residents and taxpayers? If I see Groundcover contractors peddling, and I'm in Ypsilanti Township quite often, I will equally exercise my rights as a law abiding citizen and report this solicitation to Township Officials, the Ordinance department and law enforcement personnel. Going public with their plans probably did nothing to help their "cause".


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Looking at the bright side of this controversy, it certainly will involve a lot of "attorney time" in the years ahead. Possibility the courts will overturn the long series of cases that uphold the First Amendment. The Twp is so upset about the situation they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Let the games begin! Prediction: Freedom of the Press will win.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

Susan Beckett, For those "employees" that are receiving public assistance I hope you have told them to report those earnings to DHS and I hope you are providing proof of said earnings to DHS when requested.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

I doubt that they reach their earnings limit by selling newspapers to passing motorists. But sure, we could shut them down by requiring them to file frivolous paperwork. Then multiple branches of government could hire additional employees to process it. It's not worth the trouble, unless you just want to make trouble.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

You tell'em! You tell those poor people standing out in the weather, trying to keep their newspapers dry, that the fifty cents they make per copy needs to be reported! Because there aren't any businesses evading taxes anywhere. I guess you always post on business stories, mentioning how those businesses need to be sure and report all their revenue, right? Or is it only when those way down on their luck try and make fifty cents?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Then Groundcover should be hit with multiple violations of the peddling law in Ypsilanti Township. They appeared before the Elected Body in Ypsilanti Township and lost their argument. In this case, rather than accepting this fact, maybe crafting a new plan and returning before the Board of Trustees to review the updated plans; Groundcover's defy the directive to do THEY desire over what Ypsilanti Township residents want to encounter on a street corner. Time for the misdemeanors violations to be handed out. If Groundcover wants a challenge, take it the legal route. Somehow, I believe Ypsilanti Township will win in this case, as you can yell FIRE in a crowded theater but, that doesn't mean one will not face penalties associated with such an act.

Nicholas Urfe

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

Apparently some cannot tolerate allowing the financially challenged to try and get back on their feet by selling newspapers. The horror! In other cities, the homeless must buy every paper they resell. They have regular, loyal customers, many of whom they know by name. Those social relationships, not matter how small are important.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

The Township declined to permit the newspaper because of safety concerns. Now, Groundcover seems to think it can bully the township, claiming 1st amendment violations. I used to have a lot of respect for this newspaper and others like Groundcover News which allow "housing insecure" residents to create, organize, and sell a publication of their world and every day life perspectives. The newspapers are truly an interesting and enriching read. I'm appalled at Susan Beckett's brazen defiance of the township's ordinance. It is disrespectful to the township and its citizens and will be a huge waste of our taxpayer money if this goes to court. This pretty much disgusts me and I have no intention of ever buying Groundcover. There were no free speech violations. The township responded responsibly out of concern for the safety of the vendors and motorists in busy areas. To defy this ordinance and turn it around on the township as being "uncooperative" is completely irrational and shows that the business has absolutely no respect for the township or its citizens. I am boycotting Groundcover News.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:29 p.m.

Here is the beginning of the story.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Ypsituckian, I'm reading about this for the first time. Can you elaborate on the safety concerns? Are they worse than my newspaper delivery person tossing my paper on my roof?

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

The Vietnam war was stopped by civil disobedience. We need more ppl to stand up & say "sorry but this law is wrong & I won't obey it".


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

Anybody who believes we really have free speech is sadly mistaken. Sure its better then some countries but so much news and how the news is covered is control by a small group of billionaires


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:47 p.m.

It is still a value and a right that should be fought for and protected as much as possible. Give it up as a foregone conclusion and you are defeated from the start.

Arno B

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

I suppose that we all recognize that governments make laws, not sense. I'd say that as long as the sellers don't bother anyone, I hope that they can eke out a bit of income. I doubt if the City Hall politicians would last very long on the street corners if they tried to earn a living that way.

David Cahill

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

There is a long tradition of purporting to ban newspapers in eastern Washtenaw County. Over 40 years ago, the Eastern Michigan University president, Harold Sponberg, attempted to ban what he called the "printed matter known as the Second Coming" from EMU property. The Second Coming was an underground newspaper. The Second Coming took EMU to court. It won. Some things never change.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Stopping the homeless from having a small job selling newspapers? Sounds about right for Ypsi. I suppose they would much rather these people sell drugs or ask for a handout like most of the other homeless who approach me. They are actually trying to make some money and improve their lot; if you don't like their paper, don't buy it. I for one would rather have them try to make some legitimate money rather than begging me for mine or robbing people or their homes as I read about almost daily on here. Perhaps you don't like smelly, scruffy people trying to sell you something? Better get used to it; there are rough times ahead, there will be more and more people down on their luck. It seems like this is the time for a few of those virtues we talk about but don't practice like compassion and patience. It seems like there a guy named Jesus who preached compassion to the poor or something like that... Nah, screw it, just pass a law banning the homeless, that way we don't even have to see them. That's easier than dealing with this issue in a rational way.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Well said Ryan!!.. I agree..

Dave Bass

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

I don't know about you, but this kind of pales in comparison to the real problems.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

I wish Ypsi Township leaders were more in tune with the the first amendment and our free speech rights


Sun, Jan 20, 2013 : 1:46 a.m.

First like I said no one is trying to infringe on their free speech.Second I never said the township owned the property I said they don't want them doing it on township property.There are rules you can't just do whatever you want just because it's public property.BIG DIFFERENCE


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:44 p.m.

tdw, it is PUBLIC property. The township doesn't own it. BIG DIFFERENCE!


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 6:06 p.m.

Never claimed Ypsi was trying to shut the paper down.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

The township is not trying to shut the paper down.They just don't want them peddling them on township property.Big difference


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

They can't following simple laws and wonder why they are jobless and homeless.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Let's only obey the laws and ordinances we like, ok?


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

you are either not very smart or you are being disingenuous. Either way, you don't sound very serious with your little sound bite.


Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

And ignore the constitution in the process?

just a voice

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 2:24 p.m.

it's called civil disobedience. While we may disagree on if they should or shouldn't sell papers (I haven't made up my mind yet), there is a long history of this kind of action in our country.

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

Ypsilanti Township should recognize the Bill of Rights and give up this troubling brick wall they are trying to erect against freedom of the press and allow the newspaper to operate. Unless they want to waste tax dollars they don't have. They attorney, Doug WInters, is third string at best with cases such as this.