When James Michael Lynch began posting his anti-sheriff signs last spring, he wanted to get people talking. However, the signs have provoked a conversation among city government officials that Lynch didn't intend.
During the past month, Durham officials have discussed the possibility of revising the Unified Development Ordinance to outlaw the placement of signs in the public right-of-way.
The discussion was prompted by Lynch's signs against Sheriff Mike Andrews, the posting of which is permitted under the ordinance. The INDY reported on Lynch's campaign against Andrews on July 9.
City Councilman Steve Schewel hopes to change that. According to Schewel, the number of signs Lynch has erected—more than 50, although many have been stolen—and the duration of time they've been up—all spring—sets a precedent for misuse of the public right-of-way.
"The way the UDO is currently written, somebody could put 10,000 signs in the public right of way if they had enough money," Schewel said. " I don't think we want that kind of visual pollution in Durham."
Lynch, however, sees the potential revisions to the UDO vindictive. "Obviously, they're going against me to deprive me of my First Amendment rights," Lynch said. "It feels like a slap in the face because they gave me permission to put my signs up in the first place."
According to an email sent to Lynch in late May by Grace Smith, a city-county planning supervisor, the planning department granted Lynch permission to put his signs up after consulting the City Attorney's Office.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Don O'Toole worked with the planning department to evaluate Lynch's request, but he said it's still too early to determine whether a revision to the ordinance would violate the constitution, since no formal proposal has been introduced.
Schewel said he plans to send such a proposal to his colleagues on City Council soon, but he said they probably won't address the matter until sometime this fall.
According to O'Toole, it will likely take weeks or months to make any changes to the ordinance once the process, which will be public, begins.
The ordinance, which was adopted in 2006, has been amended 70 times.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fighting the law—and the law may win"