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City Defends Political Sign Ordinance, After Candidate Claims It's Unconstitutional

Gulfport City Council Candidate Dan Liedtke, with the support of several residents, is opposing Gulfport's political sign ordinance, which limits the number of signs per ballot item or candidate on private property.

Gulfport City Council Candidate for Ward 1 Dan Liedtke says the current political sign ordinance is a "violation of someone's First Amendment."

Gulfport's City Attorney Andrew Salzman maintains that the ordinance is not unconstitutional and writes that the City has not taken action concerning the ordinance.

Liedtke says the debate began about two weeks ago when he was contacted by a handful of residents concerning the political sign limit. "Some people were upset."

Liedtke says the ordinance has "assigned the Bill of Rights to a property address and not the person." Liedtke adds that he hopes Attorney David Schauer and Attorney Andrew Salzman can work something out.

"This is a huge issue and the city can't afford a lawsuit. That's the last thing we want to do."

Below is the ordinance in question:

Section 22-17.09 Gulfport City Code:

"Signs which identify political campaigns, candidates or issues in which city residents are eligible to vote and other information pertinent thereto (hereinafter referred to as "political signs"). Political signs shall be confined within private property, shall not be erected in excess of sixty (60) days prior to the election to which they pertain and shall be removed within seven (7) days after the election to which they pertain. The candidates, the person or organization posting such signs, or the owner of the property on which the same are located shall remove all political signs. No more than one (1) political sign per ballot item or candidate shall be allowed on any property. The provisions of subsection (c) hereof shall not be applied to limit the number of allowed political signs, nor shall the number of political signs allowed pursuant to this paragraph limit the number of other temporary signs allowed under subsection (c). No unattended political signs shall be allowed on any property used as a polling place on the date of the election; and"

In short, the ordinance as interpreted by Salzman does not allow a resident to display more than one political sign per candidate or candidate race. So, if a person were to put up a sign with a Candidate from Ward 1 on it, the resident cannot put another sign up for the other Candidates from Ward 1 on the same property.

St. Petersburg Attorney David Schauer, who represents Dan Liedtke and several other citizens, sent a letter to the City of Gulfport on Jan. 31 demanding that "neither you, nor Mr. Hastings, nor the City of Gulfport, take further actions to attempt to enforce this ordinance. Any attempt to do so will result in the immediate filing of a Federal Civil Rights Claim. I hope this matter can be resolved without additional costs to the City and my clients but we will not allow the City, not its agents, to suppress the Constitutionally protected rights of its citiznes. Unless we have a positive response by Friday, February third, we are prepared to be at the Federal Courthouse on the following Monday morning."

City of Gulfport Attorney Andrew Salzman sent his response to Mr. Schauer on Monday, Feb. 6, defending the current ordinance and stating that the City has not taken action regarding this ordinance.

"There is no basis or support for your allegation that the City's ordinance is unconstitutional per se. Quite the opposite, the ordinance contains valid time, place and manner regulations. Your narrow interpretation of the City's ordinance is clearly not supported by the facts.

"As such, there is no reason to believe that the City of Gulfport ordinance governing temporary signs is enforceable. Your allegation that the City has in any way suppressed the constitutional rights of its citizens is baseless. It is my understanding that the City has not removed, not requested to remove, a political sign from private property. Therefore, I do not believe there has been any action taken by the City concerning this ordinance which would necessitate litigation at this time."

NOTE: Gulfport Patch has attempted to contact David Schauer, but has not yet heard back. As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the City Clerk had not heard back from Mr. Schauer about the City Attorney's response.

Gulfport Patch has attempted to contact the Code Enforcement Department to see if any residents have violated this ordinance. We have not heard back.

Gufport Patch has attached both letters mentioned in the above article to this post.

Lynda February 07, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Thanks for the info, Cherlene about this very confusing issue. I guess one point of the complaint would be that each resident of a property should have a choice to put up a sign supporting a candidate or ballot issue. Many households do support different candidates, of course, so on its face this seems reasonable. I suppose signs could be labeled "Resident X, Resident Y, etc.for clarity. However, would the posting of signs be limited to voting residents who could show approved identification to prevent sign fraud? And how would multiple units such as apartments be handled? Somehow, I think 50 signs on a small piece of lawn would just look strange. Some cities have had similar lawsuits about the size of signs and the size war eventually became ridiculous once the size of the sign overtook the size of the house. Since money has been deemed to equal speech perhaps each sign should also include the dollar amount given by each resident to the subject of the sign. So many possibilities, so many lawyers. . .
Paul Ray February 08, 2012 at 11:49 AM
I have to say I do not agree with the cities position or the rule as imposed. Lets's say for example I live on a corner lot, with one side of my yard facing a busy road and the front of the house face a lesser busy road. I am only allowed one sign? Nah, I disagree totally, I should be able to put up as many signs as I want with in reason. We are not talking about a permanent structure here, this is temporary. I think many of the rules and regulations this town has pushed onto the citizens are abusive in their use of power. This is one of them. So if a "home owner" puts three signs on their property are you going to remove them? That would violate your own laws, fine them? are you serious? that would be a violation of their civil rights. I think we home owners need to set city hall straight.
Bob MacLeod February 08, 2012 at 03:15 PM
He wants to take legal action against our city because he can't put up more than one sign on a lot? Our elected officials should all be team players and sueing the city you love enough to run for office is not what good leaders do. Find more people who believe enough in you and your vision for Gulfport that they would be willing to post a sign. More signs on lawns should not be the reason we elect people, it is their actions that should be the test. This move has isolated one voter. I'm really not thrilled with either candidate. We should clone Sam!
Mr. Fish February 08, 2012 at 06:11 PM
City Attorney Salzman has shown repeatedly that Gulfport City ordinances supersede any other laws, being the state or national laws, including the Constitution of the United States. Why would this be a surprise to the citizens of Gulfport.
Nancy Kelley February 08, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Mr Liedtke would sue the city! I do not want a City Councilor representing my city who would sue us. He has an unusual view of Gulfport. At the Forum he stated that he does not care if RUFUS does put his sofa on the front lawn. RUFUS who is he and what does Mr Liedtke imply by throwing out that name? Mr Lied tke lives in Pasadena Yacht and Country Club so he would never have to put up with RUFUS or his sofa! When he speaks of volunteering he refers to "his community" I assume he is speaking of Pasadena Yacht and Country Club as he has never volunteered in Gulfport proper. In my opinion his endeavor for office has nothing to do with love of Gulfport proper. Power is his game .

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