PUNTA GORDA — Despite some debate, the Punta Gorda Council opted Wednesday not to restore enforcement of the city’s sign code.
The sign code calls for political signs to be removed within five days after the general election.
“Because we live in such a litigious society right now and because people are using the bully pulpit to get their way for everything,” said Vice Mayor Debby Carey, “this is probably not the time to draw a line in the sand.”
Enforcement of the code was paused in March to allow time for the City Council to adopt new sign regulations — a process that is still underway.
At Wednesday’s meeting, council members proposed restoring enforcement early because of complaints regarding the political nature of the signs and the “offensive” language printed on them.
“I have received a ton of emails from people who are violently upset — I mean nasty emails — that we are not enforcing the sign codes (and) in this case the political signs,” said Mayor Lynne Matthews.
“Other signs are out there that are just as offensive as far as I’m concerned,” Matthews continued, “but I think we are doing the residents a disservice that we have a sign code that we are not enforcing.”
The city’s code issues began in January 2020 with an abundance of Realtor open house signs being placed in the city’s right-of-way areas such as along city streets, driveway accesses and crosswalks — an action restricted by the city’s current sign ordinance.
The code allows election or political signs to be placed 45 days prior to the election and removed within five days after the election.
If the candidate progresses from the primary election to the general election, the signs may remain in place until five days after the general election.
The problem with this sign code is that if the city were to enforce it, it could be challenged as being unconstitutional.
“If we were in the olden days when people put signs up with respect to a particular candidate and a particular event, (the current code) might fly,” said City Attorney David Levin. “(If the signs) are there because they are a political statement — if you accept that proposition — than anything we do to require those signs or flags to be taken down violates that property owners freedom of speech.”