Ishpeming council to revisit laws for city retailers

ISHPEMING –A unanimous vote of the Ishpeming City Council on Wednesday means city officials will take a closer look at its ordinance governing licenses for second-hand and junk dealers.

The action was taken after violation notices were issued in mid- to late July to several city businesses that sell second-hand goods.

As a result of Wednesday’s council vote, a committee was formed consisting of two city council members, business representatives affected by the ordinance, the city manager and the city attorney to explore options to amend the ordinance.

The motion also included language requesting that city staff discontinue any action regarding the violation notices until the committee’s findings are revealed.

The Main Street Antique Mall, Thrift Ish and St. Vincent de Paul were reportedly among the businesses that received violation notices. They later banded together and contacted city hall to protest the measure.

Many of the business owners attended the Wednesday meeting, although none addressed the council.

Main Street Antique Mall owner David Aeh, who is also chairman of the Ishpeming Downtown Development Authority, said he complied with the city’s initial registration request about 10 years ago, and the recent violation notice took him by surprise.

“A little while later I was asked to renew it, and I did that. But then, years go by, more antique stores open, and all of the sudden I came back (to the store) and there is this big envelope that has arrived from the city,” Aeh said. “Notice of violation, in all capital letters. The way it was handled was like walking down the street and being blindsided.”

City Attorney Bonnie Hoff said the matter was brought to her attention in January by police Chief Steve Snowaert, “who indicated that he believed the ordinance was not being enforced.”

A committee, including Hoff, Snowaert and City Manager Mark Slown, convened to discuss the ordinance in January, but no changes were made at that time.

“I can tell you what’s on the books right now for a second-hand dealer ordinance is identical to state statute,” Hoff said. “The state has various requirements which are followed through in this ordinance. Why it wasn’t enforced, I can’t tell you. But the chief put together a list of what (businesses) he believed would fall under the definition of this ordinance and then the city manager sent enforcement letters out reminding them about the ordinance.”

Several council members expressed dismay about the notices as well as the way in which the notification process was handled.

“There’s methods and reasons to do things the way you do them,” Councilman Mike Tonkin told the business owners. “(This) was dropped in your lap, correct? There is no excuse for that. You should have at least been contacted in person either by phone or walk up and talk to you.”

According to the ordinance, businesses falling under the category of second-hand dealers would be required to apply yearly for a license through the Ishpeming Police Department with a fee of $100.

The ordinance states that application information must include the name and proof of identification of the applicant; a copy of the current driver’s license or another form of valid identification of the applicant and every person with an ownership interest in the business; the Social Security or tax ID number of the applicant as well as every person who holds an ownership interest in the business; a list of addresses where the applicant and every person with an ownership interest has done “business of any kind” within the prior five years; a list of any misdemeanor or felony convictions of the applicant and every person who has ownership interest that have occurred within the last 10 years; and a complete set of fingerprints of the applicant and every person with ownership interest in the business, among other things.

Aeh said he has done considerable research since he was issued the notice on the way in which other municipalities handle second-hand dealers and antique shops.

“In most communities stores like mine are not regulated at all,” Aeh said, “and in some communities they are regulated the way the city of Ishpeming reads their regulation. But there is, as there often is, a middle ground. Let’s put it this way, I am not going to give anyone my Social Security number, march over to the police station and be fingerprinted and have the city of Ishpeming and the police department micromanage and meddle in my business to the point that they become a partner in my business.”

During the meeting Wednesday, Councilman Karl Lehmann rejected the idea that businesses which already pay property taxes to the city should have to pay an annual fee to operate.

“We are treating taxpaying businesspeople in this community like the traveling taco show where we charge $100 every year,” Lehmann said. “I don’t understand why taxpayers need to pay the extra. I understand why the traveling food truck needs to re-up every year, but not necessarily people who are paying taxes in the downtown.”

Several other council members said they were hopeful that a solution could be worked out.

Aeh, for his part, said he would continue to try to be optimistic about the situation.

“I think that it will work out,” he said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.