The Metro Council approved a bill last night, 27 to 8, requiring the city’s newspapers and free publications to register their news racks and pay a fee.
Sponsoring Council members Mike Jameson and Ludye Wallace say the bill is designed to prevent what they see as excessive cluttering on sidewalks.
But Nashville Scene Publisher Chris Ferrell says the current news rack policy already allows public works to remove stands in the public-right-of way. He says the government shouldn’t oversee where newspapers are distributed by requiring each box to be permitted.
“What happens if the Scene writes an article that is critical of public works, you know, or critical of the Metro Council, or critical of the next mayor’s administration, and then we start having trouble getting permits. There’s a reason the first amendment grants the press the rights that it does.”
Publications will be charged 50-dollars per rack, with a renewal fee of 10-dollars. Ferrell says that could be a big hurdle for the city’s smaller papers.
“I can pay the fee, you know the Scene is a big paper, but some of these little guys who are barely making ends meet, it may be the thing that says, puts them out of business.”
Ferrell, along with Tennessean publisher Ellen Leifeld, met with council members before the meeting last night to push an agreement they’d negotiated. The papers want a smaller fee of ten dollars per rack, and have asked that the Nashville Downtown Partnership will police them.
They have ten weeks to come forward with an agreement before the bill takes effect. But Councilman Mike Jameson warned that the city allowed the newspapers to police themselves in 1999, and says that agreement wasn’t effective.
In other council business, the ethics legislation that would prevent ALL metro employees from accepting meals was deferred until May. Another bill requiring Metro buildings to have environmentally friendly certification was also deferred.