Today is Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Farmer, city sticking to their guns on sign ordinance

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The Wilson County state house candidate who said she will sue the City of Mt. Juliet over their temporary sign ordinance that regulates placement and duration of political signs is sticking to her guns.

And the City of Mt. Juliet is not backing down, either.

Trisha Farmer is challenging incumbent District 57 Rep. Susan Lynn. She contends the sign ordinance's regulation over temporary political signs infringes on the right to free speech and violates the First Amendment.

On Tuesday she collected three of her supporters' political signs at city hall that were removed from their yards because they did not comply with the temporary sign ordinance. Late Friday night, a long memo protesting the sign ordinance with the threat to sue the city was posted on Farmer's campaign website. (To read, go to wilsonpost.com)

According to City Liaison Sharon Bachelier, the ordinance says political signs can be up 65 days total; placed 60 days prior to an election and removed within five days of the election. The original sign ordinance was adopted in 2001 and has been amended several times.

The Mt. Juliet Regional Planning Commission passed the last amendment change on April 21, 2016. It then tracked to the City Commission and was approved on second reading June 13. Part of those amendments since original adoption was to help "declutter" an abundance of signs, she said.

And while the 60 day mark is just next Thursday, Farmer said she will not give up and still asks the city to drop what she said is an "unconstitutional ordinance."

"I've spoken to several lawyers," Farmer said Tuesday. "I feel the best resolution of all this is for them to change the ordinance and not make the Mt. Juliet taxpayers defend an unconstitutional law. We have Supreme Court precedence that stand on the side of First Amendment speech. I don't feel it's appropriate to infringe on free speech."

Farmer went so far as to say her potential legal council was "prepared to subpoena several elected officials because their signs were pulled as well."

There's been a thread of emails from Farmer to the city about the issue. Basically, Farmer said she built a case against the ordinance and submitted U.S. Supreme Court and Federal District Court cases to the city to review.

"I'm aware of the current city ordinances, but I am also aware they are highly unconstitutional, to the point that we already have had the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in and set legal precedence," she wrote in an email.

"...A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court rejected the ordinance in City of Ladue (Missouri) V. Gilleo, writing that residential yard signs were 'a venerable means of communication that is both unique and important.'"

However, City Attorney Gino Marchetti, as well as City Manager Kenneth Martin, contend the sign ordinance is legal.

"Please know our sign ordinance has been properly vetted by our city attorney and his legal staff, and he [Marchetti] feels that our sign ordinance is sound and constitutional. It is fairly and equally enforced and always will be," Martin told The Wilson Post this week. "I respect and understand that not everyone appreciates our ordinance, but it is similar to the ordinances that other communities have and one that was researched in great detail during its crafting."

In a response to Farmer's inquiry as to the constitutionality of the temporary sign ordinance, Marchetti responded to her in an email Saturday.

"Therefore, it is difficult to see what rights of you or any citizen are being abridged by the City's attempt to prevent its citizens from being subjected to excessive clutter for excessive periods of time. It would be helpful to see what exactly you find unconstitutional in the City's sign ordinance which is content neutral (unlike many of the cases you cite) and imposes reasonable limits which are within the rights of the City for a variety of reasons to protect its citizens.

"To be clear, the city in adopting its sign ordinance, is following the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2015 opinion in the REED case and not a district court case citing the Ladue case from 1994," Marchetti wrote. "In fact, we spoke in person with the attorneys in the Reed case before adopting the current section on temporary signs. This is not either a strict prohibition or even an unreasonable restriction in either the number of or length of time that inexpensive and poorly made temporary signs may be posted."

Farmer said she believed the Reed case was "referring to signs in public spaces, not on private property."

Farmer also questioned why some of her signs were pulled, and others not.

"How is that?" she said. "How is this ordinance enforced?"

Martin told The Wilson Post it wasn't the city's "intent to punish or fine, but rather to seek and request compliance. In doing so we go to great lengths to make those we serve proudly and honorably not only aware of this ordinance in particular, but all city ordinances.

"Please know we enforce the ordinance as written equally and fairly to all per our ordinance, our city charter and the constitution," he said. "We have a very small codes department, so catching every sign violation can be impossible. However, we do address those we are aware of, those we find daily and those we receive complaints about as well."

Farmer additionally questioned the legality of various candidates' signs she noticed in a business window. The ordinance also regulates how far signs must be from a window. However, those signs were taken down.

"Surely, there are other things we can do with taxpayer money than pulling up yard signs," Farmer said. "I don't care whose signs they are, my signs or my opponents, selective enforcement is unconstitutional."

Farmer said it's "about the principle of the matter."

"I'll protect all the constituents' rights for free speech," she said.

In another email to the city, Farmer said she didn't plan to drop the issue.

"I am prepared to take this to court on behalf of all Mt Juliet city residents, regardless of political persuasion because it is a violation of all our rights," she said. "I expect that Mt. Juliet does not want to fight a lawsuit they know they will lose, one that violates free speech of the people, and one that will waste taxpayer's resources."

As of Thursday, there were no plans to revisit the ordinance on the city's part.

Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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Elections/Politics
Tags: 
court, Dist. 57, Gino Marchetti, government, Kenny Martin, lawsuit, legal, Mt. Juliet, political signs, politics, Susan Lynn, Trisha Farmer, U.S. Supreme Court
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