Mequon government officials didn’t care for signs advertising a recall effort against the school board placed on public property. So they played hardball and invoked a constitutionally questionable ordinance to force organizers to remove the signs.
Then they got a letter reminding them about the First Amendment.
Facing the potential of a lawsuit, the city of Mequon agreed not to enforce its sign ordinance against local school board recall organizers, according to the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty. WILL sent the city a pointed letter advising it check itself. City officials also say they will review the current ordinance to ensure it complies with the First Amendment, WILL said.
“The First Amendment has been vindicated. Recall organizers can now be confident that their freedom of speech and right to petition the government will not be infringed,” said Dan Lennington, deputy legal counsel for the Milwaukee-based civil rights law firm.
A group of citizens organizing recall elections for members of the Mequon-Thiensville School District (MTSD) have been out in their community with a banner to gather signatures and provide information. The banner declares, “RecallMTSD.com.” The goal of the recall election, supporters say, is to restore educational excellence to MTSD. WILL’s client and other parents supporting the recall also oppose Critical Race Theory and mask mandates.
But on at least four occasions, Mequon police officers confronted WILL’s client and told her the sign violated a city sign ordinance and that citations would be issued in the future.
The city’s sign ordinance prohibits “Signs, cards, banners, pictures, handbills, sign posters, advertising, or notice of any kind, on any curb, street-walk, public thoroughfare surface, fence, board, barrel, box, case, railing, pole, post, bridge, tree, barricade, material, bridge fender, dock, pile, building or structure of any kind on public ground, public waterway or upon any structure projecting over any public thoroughfare, public ground or public waterway within the city except by City of Mequon authorization.”
WILL issued its letter to Mequon Mayor John Wirth and City Administrator William Jones warning the city that attempts to enforce a sign ordinance against a group of school board recall organizers violates the First Amendment. WILL also highlighted how the City’s ordinance violates the Constitution by regulating signs based upon their content, because the city allows other types of signs.
The city responded in good faith and has committed to a review of the current sign ordinance, according to the law firm. Mequon committed to halting any enforcement that may violate the constitution, WILL said.
“We appreciate the City of Mequon for taking this issue seriously and committing to a review and revision of city ordinances to ensure complete compliance with the Constitution,” Lennington said.