You Paid For It: Battle brewing in Palmetto over business advertising flags

PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA) — The City of Palmetto is spending thousands of your tax dollars on a new code enforcement crackdown against flags, a move six merchants insist is driving them out of business.

”I think it’s silly,” said Jeanine Pease, who owns the Vapin Lizards store.

“The country’s gone totally crazy,” added Howard Mexico, who owns the Backdoor Thrift Store.

Both businesses are located on 8th Avenue West, which is Palmetto’s version of Main Street.

Palmetto’s assistant city clerk estimates the city’s two code inspectors spent about 10 percent of their time, or roughly $12,000 in taxpayer money, regulating temporary signage such as banners that fly in front of the businesses owned by Pease, Mexico and at least four other downtown businesses.

“It’s a health and safety issue for us,” Palmetto City Attorney Mark Barnebey said. “We’re going to be very sensitive to that.”

Barnebey insists the banners can obstruct the view of motorists and harm pedestrians if they collapse on the sidewalks of the city’s downtown business district. Barnebey couldn’t site even a single instance where the banners have caused a crash or impaled a passerby, but says she’s personally seen the flags drooping in harm’s way.

“I don’t want to wait until something happens for it to be a serious problem for the city,” she said.

R-PALMETTO-BUSINESS-DOCUMENHalf a dozen merchants insist the city’s taxpayer-funded crackdown is already a serious problem for them, and most say they’ll have to shutter their doors if they can’t fly banners to attract customers. “They can’t see my business,” Mexico said.

Whatever the case, battle lines are drawn with local florist Jamie Wilson already discussing a possible lawsuit with his lawyer. Wilson thinks the city has singled out his business for regulation because he’s gay. “Yes, absolutely,” he said.

A court fight could ring up the bill on taxpayers even further, and the loss of revenue from closed business won’t help the city treasury at all.

Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant is a lifelong resident of the river city in Manatee County. She insists there is no taxpayer-funded campaign to drive local merchants out of business with zealous enforcement of the city’s temporary sign ordinance.

“I’m sorry you’ve been so mislead,” Groover said last week. ”I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time on this.”

A day after that interview, Pease said she had a meeting with the mayor during which she appeared more receptive to helping work out her sign problems. The city attorney also suggested a truce may be possible. It wouldn’t be a flag of surrender but could bring peace talks with local merchants.

“Certainly we’ve heard from some of them already and you’ve brought it to our attention as well, so yes we will look at that issue as well as a lot of other issues related to the sign ordinance,” Barnebey said. “It might make a difference.”

If you have questions for Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant about the flag issue, her number is (941) 723-4500.

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