The city of Key West has added some teeth to the law that forbids "off-premise canvassing," or promoting a business by handing out cards or fliers along Duval Street.
Finding that code compliance officers can't keep up with the graveyard shift hours kept by the canvassing scofflaws, the City Commission last week unanimously changed the law to allow police officers the right to hand out citations or even arrest suspects.
"This revision allows for Key West Police Department officers to address the issue via either civil citation in county court or arrest," Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh wrote in a memo to commissioners.
The change, approved without comment at Tuesday's commission meeting, was inspired by the competitive antics of two "adult entertainment" spots that were both recently cited for violating the rule, Living Dolls, 516 Fleming St., and the Adult Entertainment Club, 1221 Duval St.
Both clubs had people soliciting customers after 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 10 between the 200 and 300 blocks of Duval Street, according to citations filed with code compliance. Living Dolls was caught with one canvasser while code enforcement cited two working for the competition.
A special magistrate will hear the cases at a 1 p.m. Wednesday hearing at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St., where the clubs' owners and managers have been invited by the city.
The city cited the individuals caught handing out the fliers along with the clubs' owners and bosses. Bianca DiGennaro runs Living Dolls, owned by Glenn Tanner, and Yuliya Andrews of Raleigh, N.C. is listed as the owner of the Adult Entertainment Club, which was formerly known as the Scrub Club.
Code violations can rack up fines of $250 to $500 per day.
But with the new law amendment, chucking handbills at tourists on Duval Street can now end with a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail.
Unregulated, the practice of canvassing may create a public health hazard, city law says, bringing congestion, blocked sidewalks and litter.
In Key West, businesses may engage in handing out promotional items but only with a $30 permit bought at City Hall that is good for one year and never on the island's marquee path of Duval Street.
Permit-holders aren't supposed to block people's paths, slap their fliers on car windshields or leave a stack of their promo items on the sidewalk, under Key West law.
The two adult clubs are only under fire for reportedly heading to forbidden territory of Duval Street to hawk business card-sized advertisements, apparently around the exact same time.
"The problem that the city encounters is that presently, there are numerous non-permitted off-premise canvassers operating during hours in which code compliance officers are not working, usually very late at night and early morning hours," Ramsingh wrote.
Now, police officers have the power to cite illegal canvassers.
The beefed-up law closes loopholes, said Mayor Craig Cates.
"They knew the hours of code enforcement and they'd go out after," Cates said. "We'd put out a special detail and catch them."
At 1:33 a.m. Jan. 10, Anthony B. Huggins was in the 200 block of Duval Street soliciting customers for the Adult Entertainment Club, according to the citation signed by Code Compliance Manager Jim Young.
A second complaint against the same club stems from the same date, accusing Niele Bassi Favreau of soliciting customers at 1:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Duval.
Living Dolls also got cited that day, when the code officer cited Chelsea Lawson, 25, for soliciting customers for the competing club at 1:45 a.m., according to the paperwork filed by a code compliance officer.