Should the Mooresville Town Council have the authority to force its political opponents to come beg them for permission to advertise that opposition?
On March 20th, 2020 we received an email from the head of the town’s public works superintendent Dave Moore stating the following:
On April 1st, this sudden change in the practice of allowing temporary signs on public property was covered by the local paper. Read that full story here. There were several things to worth noting in this article.
One is the towns official legal opinion regarding the sign ordinance.
“Mooresville cannot tell politicians how big their signs can be or how many signs he/she can place on a property during that (60 days before and six days after an election) time frame,” Copeland wrote in her email. “But, since Mooresville’s ordinance clearly prohibits all signs, except those specifically permitted in the UDO, on public property, IC 36-1-3-11(c) doesn’t apply.”
IC 36-1-3-11(c) clearly states:
(c)Subject to subsection (d), an ordinance or a regulation of a political subdivision relating to the number or size of signs is unenforceable during the following period:
The sign ban does not violate state law only if all signs of all types are banned from these areas. Ironically, the main photo accompanying this story is a picture of a sign in an island style right-of-way located at the corner of Indiana and Samuel Moore Parkway. That sign remined in that location until at least April 4th.
On March 27th the Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian chairs held a meeting to discuss a response to this sign ban. A letter was drafted and sent to the Mooresville Town Council with the support of all three party chairs. In that letter they detailed a request to place political signs on public property and requested to be placed on the agenda in order to request permission on behalf of all candidates during the 2020 season. You can read that letter here.
That request to be on the agenda has been consistently denied. President Shane Williams took to Facebook on April 3rd in response to the request saying the party chairs needed to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals to get permission. Mr Willaims expressed that to his own party chair as well, since Mr Elliott was working with the all Republican council to get our concerns on the agenda. Attempts to get on the BZA agenda have also been fruitless.
By April 18th the sign at Indiana & Samuel Moore had been replaced by another sign advertising a local plumbing business. We have documented many signs of all types on public property. On April 21st we began documenting signs for Republican candidates in public spaces.
We placed our first political sign for Tonya Millis next to a Republican sign near the South Mooresville Gateway monument on May 13th. That sign remained throughout the primary election season and we did not receive any complaints about it or calls to remove it.
On May 19th at approximately 8 pm we placed a Don Rainwater sign at the South Gateway location as well as in the island median at Indiana and Samuel Moore Parkway. At that time the plumbing sign had been at this location for a month with no public complaint from the Town Council or Shane Williams.
Approximately 17 hours later at around 1pm on May 20th Town Council President Shane Williams posts a photo of our sign at the Indiana / Samuel Moore location with the business sign carefully cropped out. On this post he claims we are “getting an unfair and unlawful advantage” and generally saying other derogatory and inflammatory things about Libertarians, which he has a history of doing. We then received the following email at 2:21 PM that same day (approximately 18 hours after placing the sign).
We responded as follows:
On May 23rd we placed a Don Rainwater sign next to another Republican sign located on the west side of town. We have documentation of that sign being there since at least May 5th. That sign remained throughout the primary election season and did not receive any public ridicule or calls to remove it. At about that same time, we received this email from Town Council President Shane Williams:
On May 24th, President Williams again took to Facebook to specifically call out the Libertarian Party while never mentioning the Republican candidate signs, business signs, or variety of other signs currently on public property within the town. No other candidate, business, organization, or individual has received this kind of treatment from any official for allegedly violating the sign ordinance.
On May 27th, sometime between 1 pm and 5:30 pm and just 1 week after being placed, our sign was removed from the Indiana St / Samuel Moore location. The plumbing sign next to ours, which had been there nearly 6 weeks, was also removed. Meanwhile, signs in public spaces all over town remain untouched. Our signs placed next to Republican Candidate signs remained untouched throughout the primary political season and without public outrage from Mr. Williams.
On July 9th we submitted a Freedom of information request to the Town of Mooresville Clerk's office. We requested copies of the following documents [or documents containing the following information]:
We received a response to that request on the morning of July 14th. It contained many items of note.
On or about July 11th a large trailer letter sign was parked in the Indiana Street island. Several other signs promoting concerts and local businesses also appeared around this time. The large park sign and all other signs in that island were removed by July 14th. None of these signs are publicly denounced, shamed, or ridiculed by Town Council President Shane Williams.
On Tuesday, July 21st the Mooresville Parks Depart gets on the agenda and appears at the Mooresville Town Council meeting. After much debate, the Town Council does vote 4-1 to authorize the Parks Department to place signs in the parks as needed, and to place the large portable trailer sign in the Indiana Street island location. You can read the news coverage of that meeting here or watch the video of that meeting here.
On August 13th the Morgan County political parties are put on the Board of Zoning Appeals agenda to ask permission to place signs during the 2020 election season. Libertarian Chair Danny Lundy spoke on behalf of the issue, and Town Council President Shane Williams spoke against it. The board voted to deny the request. You can read the news coverage of that meeting here or watch the video of that segment of the meeting here.
In response, Libertarian County Chair Danny Lundy penned an op-ed on the topic claiming the sign ban places the Town of Mooresville in a "no-win scenario" and stresses that the way this law is being enforced will hurt more than just political speech. In it he calls for the law to be fixed. That article was published in the Mooresville Times on August 19th and can be read here.
On September 1st we submitted another FOI request to the Town of Mooresville Clerk's office. We requested copies of the following documents [or documents containing the following information]:
On Thursday September 3rd we received this response to our request: "I have reached out to both the Public Works and Building departments and they have found no such documents."
This response is puzzling given there have been at least three documented requests to-date this year.
It is difficult to ascertain if more than these three requests exist since the official response to our FOI request states that there is no documentation of any requests at all. Assuming these are the only three instances of permission being requested to place signs, there appears to be a bias against political speech, which is protected by the first amendment. This is reaffirmed in the conversations and actions taken to remove signage. Only political signage, especially that of one particular party, appears to have been initially targeted for enforcement.
It is our belief that:
It is apparent to us that this town council is using taxpayer funded town resources to carry out a private political agenda. We need your help to right this wrong. Donate to our legal fund today and help us fight this abuse of power in Mooresville.
Paid for and authorized by the Libertarian Party of Morgan County