Mary Pat Boian
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Eureka Springs residents said they were surprised Tuesday afternoon when notified the SWEPCO signs with a No slash through them in their yards were violating the city sign ordinance. City Building Inspector Bobby Ray told the Independent the signs were actually illegal and he, who is also an auxiliary police officer, was charged with explaining how to make them legal.
“If they are in a window or on a vehicle, it’s fine,” Ray said. “But they are not allowed to be within 15 feet, and in some cases, 20 feet of a road’s center line. For a city street, it is typically three feet from the edge of the blacktop. They also can’t be affixed to road signs, highway signs, stapled to power poles, etc. And they can’t be in the front yard.” Exceptions are certain size real estate signs and signs with a permit, such as Open Today.
Ray said SWEPCO signs are not considered political signs because there is no set date for an election. He said he talked with property owners and when they were not available, he tried to call them to say the signs were illegal. As of Wednesday evening he had confiscated three signs from commercial businesses that were closed. “They can come in Friday morning and get their signs and I’ll tell them how to comply,” Ray said.
Local residents were incensed that what they considered their First Amendment rights had been violated. “I pay taxes on this property, it is my land and I’ll do what I want,” one caller insisted. “The city has no right to curb my political beliefs.”
“D Rude at the UPS store made room on his marquee to put his SWEPCO sign, and that is in accordance with the law,” Ray said. “Focker’s made the same concession. You can attach your sign to an existing legal sign. There are ways to work this out so people can have their signs and be within the law.”
“It would’ve been nice if the city had put a notice in the paper, or given us a week or until August 1,” D Rude said. “Yes, we voted not to have signs or stake signs in yards, but they could have interpreted this differently, or given us fair warning, a considerate, reasonable announcement of their intentions.” Rude said he had sold hundreds of the signs with the money going to Save the Ozarks, which is opposing SWEPCO’s intention to erect high voltage transmission lines in Carroll County.
One woman insisted she would simply hang her SWEPCO t-shirts on her clothesline and “let the city come in and try to get them.” Another said she was contacting the American Civil Liberties Union as soon as she got off the phone.
Police Chief Earl Hyatt said the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court do override the local sign ordinance and signs will be returned on Friday.
The United States Supreme Court did rule in favor or Margaret P. Gilleo of Ladue, Mo., who in 1990 placed a sign in her yard expressing opposition to the Persian Gulf War. Her sign disappeared and she called police, who told her it was against the town sign ordinance. She sued and the case went to the Supreme Court. The unanimous decision was that a regulation that eliminated an entire form of communication with no adequate substitute, prevented protected free speech, a First Amendment right.
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