Billboard firm: City is violating free speech right

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2003

[8/19/03]Vicksburg officials were served Monday with a federal lawsuit by a billboard company saying the city’s new ordinance banning billboards inside the city violates the company’s right to free speech.

Also, Lamar Company LLC., which filed the suit against the city, appealed a city order saying a billboard sign in the 900 block of Bowmar Avenue be removed because it has deteriorated and is dangerous. The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen rejected the appeal.

“We’re very pro-private sector, but your product is no longer needed in our city,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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Lisa Reppetf, spokesman for the Lamar Company who appeared at the board meeting, did not talk about the lawsuit. Regarding the Bowmar billboard, she said the company was willing to repair it, but that the new sign ordinance adopted by the city in 2002 prevents that needed work.

“We’ve been at odds with the city ever since over what we can and cannot do,” Reppetf said.

Dalton McCarty, city zoning administrator, said billboards will be phased out inside the city under the new ordinance. The only billboards allowed will be on perimeter highways. Signs like the one on Bowmar will be allowed to remain only until beyond repair, he said.

McCarty said that language in the ordinance prevents billboard owners from making major renovations to extend the life of the signs.

“These two signs are in an unsafe condition and in my opinion need to be removed,” McCarty said.

Reppetf did not say if the company will respect the board’s order and remove the signs or take further legal action. Along with the federal case, Lamar Company can seek an order from Warren County Circuit Court to keep the billboard.

No hearing date for the lawsuit has been set. It alleges the company’s First Amendment rights regarding free speech are violated by the decision to limit or eliminate signs.

In other matters the city board:

Hired Vicksburg Police Officer London Williams, a four-year police veteran from Greenville.

Recognized Vicksburg Police Lt. David Beard for 25 years with the department and deputy City Clerk Edna Hadad for 24 years with the city.

Received bids for traffic-signal improvements along Clay Street.

Took no action on an appeal from the decision by the inspection department on property at 2602 Togo St.

Declare a 9mm pistol surplus and authorized its sale to Vicksburg Police Lt. Dora Smith who retired.

The city board will meet again at 10 a.m. Aug. 25 at City Hall Annex.