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Kansas City suburb may go back to drawing board on sign rules

By The Associated Press
09.05.06

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — This Kansas City suburb will consider a new sign ordinance, the city attorney says, after a federal judge found the current one appeared to violate First Amendment rights.

Prairie Village resident David Quinly, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, had challenged the ordinance after the city cited him for his front-yard signs opposing the war in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum issued an injunction on Aug. 31 blocking Prairie Village from enforcing its ordinance.

City Attorney Charlie Wetzler said Prairie Village officials didn't mean to step on anyone's rights. He said officials would try to come up with a revised ordinance that addressed the court's concerns.

"All Prairie Village wants is an ordinance that is constitutional," Wetzler said. "We want an ordinance that works. It's difficult when you're balancing the needs of the city, the customs of the city and free speech."

Quinly had been posting signs opposing the war for more than two years when the city cited him in September 2005 for two signs that were larger than city regulations allowed.

Quinly pleaded no contest and was fined $300. He then appealed his conviction to Johnson County District Court, and the city agreed to dismiss the fine.

The city subsequently adopted a new ordinance designed to address deficiencies in its rules covering political signs. The ordinance regulated "information signs" that involve free speech, a personal belief or a political party, candidate or issue. It said such signs can't be larger than 16 square feet; can't contain profane or indecent expressions; can't be displayed longer than 90 days; and must be durable enough to withstand high winds.

Quinly and the ACLU then challenged the new regulations.

After Lungstrum determined that other signs — such as for-sale signs posted by real estate agents and signs posted at churches and libraries — were treated differently, the issue became whether the rules served a compelling public interest.

Prairie Village argued that larger signs created a traffic hazard and that the durability requirement was justified as a way to prevent cheap signs in disrepair from cluttering neighborhoods.

Lungstrum ruled that the regulations achieved none of those purposes because they didn't apply to signs not containing political messages.

Wetzler said city officials could come up with new rules within a few weeks.

The ACLU and Quinly could not be reached for comment in time for this story.


Previous
Kan. man fined for anti-war signs in his yard
Prairie Village resident appeals ticket, arguing that ordinance restricts political speech. 12.28.05

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