Munger for NC Governor--2008!!

Recording the campaign activities, events, and happenings of the Munger for Governor campaign.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Local Raleigh Activity, for the Outrage-Deficient

This is not the end of the world. But it is time somebody stood up to bureaucratic foolishness. And it is a good cause. The rest of this post is taken from an email written by my friend Susan Hogarth.

The City of Raleigh is harassing a local retail business (Hughie & Louie's, a costume shop), using very odd and selective enforcement of it's sign ordinance to suppress commercial free speech. Libertarianism supports a right to of all forms of free speech, whether political or commercial, unless there is fraud or some physical threat involved (certainly not the case, here). As members of the Libertarian Party, you can help a local business fight this government harassment.

There are two protests planned, both endorsed by the LP.

One is to be downtown at the city offices located at the corner of Hargett and McDowell streets, at noon this Monday (10/30/06). It is being organized by local cable access journalist Todd Mormon, who wants to bring pressure directly on city government.

The second protest, sponsored independently by the Wake Co. LP, is to be held tomorrow, from 3pm to 5pm, Saturday (10/28/06), directly in front of the business being harassed, at the Oak Park shopping center on Glenwood Avenue, just North of Crabtree Mall. We apologize for the short notice.

At last night's WakeLP meeting, some members volunteered to attend these protests. Hopefully some of you now reading about this for the first time will join us.

Here's the background:

According to the sign ordinance of the City of Raleigh, a business is not normally allowed any "special" signs. Typically for a business, a "special" sign would be a banner or other sign designed to stand in for the narrowly defined not-"special" business sign (a permanently mounted, more expensive one, which is typically put on the front of the site of a given business). In the lifetime of any business in Raleigh, the business is only allowed two "special use" permits. And these are only good for 30 days each.

Taking advantage of this are "temporary" stores, which occupy a space for only two months, then move to another location, or reopen at the same location at a later date. Even though these "temporary" businesses have the same name, the same phone number and the same stock each time they open, they are allowed fresh "special use" permits any time they change location, according to the sign ordinance enforcement officials of the City of Raleigh.

By contrast, a business which consistently stays open at one location - employing workers, providing a service to the community and paying taxes - such a business is given only two opportunities for "special use" promotions. This disadvantage is enforced simply because these, the majority of businesses, choose to maintain a stable location. And in one specific case, which has drawn the full enforcement power of the City of Raleigh's sign enforcement bureaucracy, it is questionable whether or not there would even be a "sign" violating the "sign ordinance".

The ordinance itself does not refer to clothing, nor to uniforms, nor to costumes. Having read the ordinance, the management of Houie & Louie's decided to use costumes as a way to promote itself. To advertise itself during the Halloween season, Houie & Louie's dressed some family members and friends as Santa and Mrs. Clause and two elves and had them stand in front of the store, next to the road waving to passers by. They were not holding signs, nor was there any writing on their clothing.

But according to the officials of the City of Raleigh, this was a violation of the "sign ordinance". The reasoning given was that the shop sold costumes, and was thus displaying it's product. So any costume on display to the public in front of the store was going to be called a "sign", by the sign ordinance enforcement officials, who would then demand a "special use" permit, or impose a penalty.

There were no complaints from any citizens about the people in costumes. The sign ordinance enforcement officials of the City of Raleigh, we may speculate, had chosen to give special attention to this situation (and in doing so stretch their jurisdiction), merely because the business had drawn attention to itself, by an earlier complaint about the discrimination in favor of businesses which move frequently (described above).

Ideally, Houie & Louie's would like to use costumed employees with signs promoting their business every Halloween - their busiest time. But the City of Raleigh has warned Houie & Louie's that wearing their merchandise on the street in front of their shop, even without a sign, is punishable by a fine of $500 a day. Meanwhile car dealers who display cars in front of their businesses, clothing store employees who wear clothes in front of their businesses, etc. are being left alone.

Unfortunately, in the City of Raleigh, and in most of the USA, the notion of Freedom of Speech does not automatically extend to commercial speech. If someone were to do exactly what Houie and Louie's wants to do, but do it for reasons of political protest, it would be "protected" expression.

I talked with one of the owners of Houie & Louie's and asked if they would mind if the Libertarian Party of Wake County did exactly that. Not surprisingly, this small business would welcome such political free speech. And as a political group, we can bring signs which express our concerns. Mine will read "the Libertarian Party protests discrimination by the City of Raleigh against HUGHIE & LOUIE'S COSTUME SHOP".

Those capital letters might be in a larger font.


At 3:28 PM, Blogger Susan Hogarth said...

Thanks for sharing information on the protest, Mike. However, to give credit where it is due; Phil Jacobson took the lead on this and has doen the work and wrote the email.

I hope to be out there Saturday afternoon - and I hope to see lots of other folks!


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