Florissant City Council Approves Amendment to Political Sign Ordinance
Although the council made additional changes to the ordinance, ACLU still has problems with its constitutionality.
Along with the city, Mayor Robert Lowery and Building Commissioner Phillip Lum, who currently face a lawsuit from the previous ordinance, the City Council as well as City Attorney John M. Hessel hoped to avoid heading to court with the passage of the ordinance.
“I don’t know of any reason to file a lawsuit other than for political grandstanding,” Hessel said in a previous interview.
On Jan. 3, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ward 6 City Councilman and mayoral candidate Andrew Podleski’s wife, M. Christine BredenKoetter, for violating a city ordinance where political signs could not be posted more than 30 days before an election cycle.
As soon as the council arrived at the agenda item for second reading, Ward 8 City Councilman Mark Schmidt proposed a number of amendments that were quickly approved, including reducing the size of a political sign to four square feet and reducing the number of signs per yard from two to one.
The amendment regarding size of the political sign will also be applied to real estate signs in another amendment.
Thereafter, Ward 4 City Councilman and council president Keith English proposed to add an amendment that would require signs to be taken down no later than 10 days following the election that was also approved by council.
In trying to assure that the ordinance would be in compliance with the constitution as well as the ACLU's concerns council members referenced Hessel for any further recommendations or problems.
Hessel said he wouldn’t be able to say for sure and asked Councilman Podleski if the amendments would resolve all of the concerns with the lawsuit.
That’s when the discussion took a shift in tone and attitude.
Podleski replied that he had not spoken to his wife about it and didn’t have any idea as to whether the ordinance would satisfy all conditions of the lawsuit.
“This is your chance to be a legislator,” said Ward 3 City Councilman Tom Schneider. “We’re asking for your help. I’m voting not because I want to, but because the city attorney says I have to.”
Mayor Robert Lowery also voiced his concerns about Councilman Podleski’s lack of knowledge about his wife’s case.
“If my wife filed litigation against the City of Florissant, I better damn well know about it,” he said. “And if I ask her about it, and she doesn’t tell me why, we’re going to have some problems.”
Mayor Lowery continued to say that the original ordinance was not unreasonable legislation, and it was to protect the residents of Florissant.
With Podleski abstaining from the vote, the council unanimously voted to approve the ordinance with the approved amendments.
Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said early Tuesday that while the amended ordinance is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t resolve all problems and has created a few problems in turn.
Rothert said that the stipulations on time, the number of signs and the size of the signs leave the ordinance in an unconstitutional state, and he said that they stand on their position that political speech has to be given the highest protection of any speech.