City negotiates settlement in lawsuit

By Dennis Minich

Many of Harrisonville’s laws concerning signs, not just political signage, may be drastically changed if the board of aldermen agree to a settlement negotiated by City Attorney John Fairfield, City Administrator Happy Welch and Harrisonville resident Kelly Street and his ACLU attorneys.

Fairfield and Welch confirmed Monday night they had met earlier in the day with Street and his attorneys about the lawsuit filed this past summer concerning political signs in the city.

Street had been contacted about having signs on his lawn about the Proposition A ballot initiative up more than 30 days prior to the August election, which was earlier than allowed by city ordinance. Street contacted the ACLU and a suit was filed in the Federal Court for the Western District of Missouri contending Street’s First Amendment rights to free speech had been violated.

Unrelated to the action, earlier in the summer the city had passed revisions to the election signs ordinance limiting the size of political signs. Once Street’s suit was filed the city ceased enforcing sign laws and throughout the election season signs larger than allowed were found throughout the city.

“I was really surprised we got these results without having to go to court,” Street said Monday evening. “Even my attorneys said they were pleased at the result.”

Neither Welch nor Fairfield would comment on the negotiation saying it would be brought to the board of aldermen in executive session at the next meeting and then the board would have to vote to approve the settlement.

Among some of the terms of the settlement, the city will no longer place time limits on signs on private property. Under current ordinance signs for special events, such as elections, have to be removed two days after the event or will be considered abandoned. Under the settlement, signs considered “abandoned” cannot be removed. Instead, the owner is notified and has the right to appeal removal, first to the codes’ enforcement officer and then to the city administrator.

While the city can still limit signs on public property, there will limited regulation on signs on private property. The ordinance passed earlier this summer will, in essence, be voided and the maximum size for a political sign on private property will be 32-square-feet.

There were broad changes in the sign laws including portable signs, signs on automobiles and even flags.

“They made some changes we didn’t even ask for,” Street said.

In addition, Street will receive $250 in compensation for lost wages. The city will pay Street’s attorneys. Street said he did not know the amount, but it is less than the $13,000 they had requested.

Get more stories like this delivered weekly! Subscribe today!