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.