City attempts to make fliering illegal (again)
Mark Piotrowski
September 2000

Welcome to Gainesville, where time does not stand still, but where some city bureaucrats would like to see it go backwards.

On August 14, the Gainesville City Commission, in an apparent attempt to go back to the "good old days", took the first step toward re-criminalizing fliering on telephone poles. At that meeting the commission unanimously passed on first reading City Ordinance 0-00-81, which would effectively ban fliering throughout Gainesville. The ordinance would take us back to the days where putting a flier announcing an educational event, lost dog, music show, or political event could mean a hefty fine or even arrest.

Yes, arrest.

For those of you new to our fair city, join us on a short history tour. A tour that will introduce you not only to the City's creative attempts to justifying restricting free speech in the name of city beautification, but to the proud tradition of community organizing that we have built in Gainesville. A tradition that won the relaxation of anti-fliering laws in 1997 and that we will need to call upon to defeat the current round of attacks on free speech.

Gainesville History 101: Post No Bills
The fact that bands, political groups, people looking for babysitters or lost dogs can put up fliers without being arrested or fined is because of the organizing efforts of the Civic Media Center and other community groups in the late 1990s.

People could be fined and even arrested for posting fliers until summer of 1996 when three of the people arrested under this code stood on their free speech rights and refused to be intimidated by the city, the police and the courts.

David Grantham, Howard Rosenfeld, and Mike Geison were arrested in separate incidents for placing informational fliers on poles within blocks of University Ave and 13th Street. Grantham and Geison were handcuffed and placed in police cars. Rosenfeld was cited and told to show up in court.

Generally, people arrested under this ordinance pled guilty and got a fine. These three refused to plead guilty, saying that the ordinance was a violation of their rights to free speech, and was being selectively enforced against them. This point was highlighted when the City allowed Coca Cola to post fliers on the poles all along University Ave. to advertise the Coca Cola-sponsored Olympic torch relay for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Community political organizations, musicians and artists, who are particularly at risk for police intimidation, rallied and marched down University Avenue posting fliers as a group on August 8, 1996. Their fliers read "YOUR IDEA HERE (could get you arrested)"; "YARD SALE TODAY ($500 fine tomorrow)" and "POST NO BILLS (unless you're a major corporation.)" The march was organized by the Civic Media Center, and joined by representatives of Campus NOW, the Hardback Cafe, musicians and others who had been arrested under the law. They circulated a petition, gathering 2,700 signatures of Gainesvillians calling for repeal of the ordinance 17-2 which makes illegal "affixing signs or advertising matter to and upon poles erected in the streets of the City...".

Faced with this resistance, State Attorney Rod Smith stated in a letter to the police chief August 26 that he would not prosecute the three or any other fliering cases. "... It is impractical and expensive to have police officers' time spent waiting to testify at a full-blown trial of such a trivial matter," Smith stated. Part of the reason he gave for not prosecuting was that the law was enforced so selectively. The truth is that when fliering was illegal there were just as many fliers-a fact the City Commission conveniently forgets in its current mission to outlaw this practice.

Ultimately, the City relented--given that they couldn't enforce the law--and passed Ordinance #0-97-79, which allowed fliering on concrete poles along University Ave. from North South Drive to W. 6th St., and along NW 13th St. from NW 5th Ave. to Archer Road. It was the organizing, petition gathering and speaking out at commission meetings that forced the city to loosen the restrictions on fliering.

And it's ultimately that kind of organizing, public support and mobilization of citizens that is going to get the city to drop its current obsession with the fliering "crime wave". There are two upcoming meetings where citizens will have a chance to speak out about the city's attempt to re-outlaw fliering.

The Community Redevelopment Agency meeting on Monday, September 18 at 3 p.m. at City Hall will be to discuss and decide what the recommendation to the city will be concerning fliering. The CRA is made up of commissioners and community members to direct the redevelopment of the area some of us still refer to as The Student Ghetto.

The City Commission will vote on the anti-fliering ordinance at their next meeting: Monday, September 25. Please call the Civic Media Center (373-0010) for the time of this meeting, which will be held in the City Hall Building, 200 E. University Ave. Call City Commissioners Pegeen Hanrahan, Warren Neilson, Chuck Chesnut (who was the most sympathetic), Paula Delaney and John Barrow at 334-5015.

Is Gainesville becoming just another McCity?
The city would like the discussion on September 25 to center around the particulars of their half-baked plan for kiosks around town. They believe that fliering on poles should be replaced with 6-10 kiosks spread from UF to Downtown. This ignore the rights of the people who live and work in those areas to free speech.

Furthermore, the commissioners and the city staff have based their attempts to recriminalize fliering on 3 main points, most of which sound good on the surface but fail to hold up under closer scrutiny.

1. "This is what the people of Gainesville want"
The city may well get complaints about fliering. But I am quite certain that the city gets complaints about a lot of things, from gas prices to traffic on 34th Street. Some things they take action on, some things they don't. And I'm sure they get complaints about a lot of things they simply have no control over.

But there is a consistent pattern afoot. It seems that whenever there are "problems" centered around the Student Ghetto, the Midtown area or young people in general the city can't wait to cram some change down our throats.

From the redevelopment of the Student Ghetto, to the 2 a.m. bar closing to the criminalization of fliering, the city repeatedly has put the wishes and needs of students and young people second, behind what other Gainesville residents and wealthy developers like Linda and Ken McGurn and Nathan Collier want.

When asked at the August 14 Commission meeting why the issue of fliering was being reintroduced 3 years after the change was made, Mayor Paula Delaney said that there the city was getting "numerous complaints and codes violations." However when pressed on this point later in the meeting and asked how citizens could get the record of said complaints, several commissioners confessed that most of these complaints "were made to individual commissioners" either on the phone or away from the office and therefore very few official complaints are on public record.

This stands in stark contrast to the "non-complaints" of those of us who believe that fliering is an important, vital part of our community. As mentioned earlier, 2,700 signatures were collected not just to support fliering around the University, but calling for the TOTAL REPEAL of the ordinance outlawing fliering throughout Gainesville. And unlike the unverifiable complaints the commissioners claim to be receiving, the 2,700 people who signed the petition in 1997 can be verified quite easily by anyone-including the current City Commissioners-since the petition was entered into the public record.

fliering in 1996
Fliering 1996--
before it was legal

fliering in 2000
Fliering 2000--
after it became legal

The only difference is now people aren't punished for it. (Unless, of course, you flier on one of the black mast-arm poles, that's illegal, or flier out of the "university context area.") City Commissioners may make fliering illegal again Sept. 25.

This point was illustrated further at the August 14 meeting by the turnout. During the public debate 2 people got up to speak for the ordinance to outlaw fliering. One gentleman had spoken on 2-3 other issues that evening and I do not believe he was there for this issue but simply took the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. Another woman spoke in favor of the ordinance. That was it. There were at least 6 of us speaking against the anti-fliering ordinance. There were at least 4 other people in the audience who came to show support but did not speak. Yet, the Commission voted for the ordinance (which needs to be voted on one more time, scheduled for Sept. 25, to become law.)

2. "Gainesville is having to spend tax dollars to clean up the fliers."
Again this may be true. But the city would have us believe that (a) thousands and thousands of dollars are being spent to take down outdated fliers and (b) this is the only or even the biggest public clean up cost the city incurs.

Come on folks. Who is doing the accounting at City Hall? Mr. Magoo? Daffy Duck? First of all we are talking about approximately 2 miles of University and 13th Street where fliers are currently "legal". Compare the money the city is currently tossing down the drain on staff time devoted to fliering code enforcements, staff time spent planning the deployment of kiosks as well as the purchasing of these kiosks and actual time taken up in city commission meetings and committee meetings discussing this issue. This is at least several, if not tens of thousand dollars.

Compare this to a hypothetical "fliering exterminator" staff position. If you paid someone $10/hour, 2 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to ride their bike up and down University Ave. and 13th St. taking down outdated fliers it comes out to just over $1,000/year. Unless the person just learned how to read or ride a bike, you could probably get by doing it every other week.

So thousands of dollars to code enforcement agents, city planners and consultants vs. $500-1,000 to one person responsible for taking down old fliers.

The city also likes to act like this is the only reason they have to spend taxpayer dollars to clean up trash along University Ave.

Hello? Has anyone ever heard of Game Day? Gator Football? Now don't lump me in with the anti-sports crowd. I love football. But if the City and residents like Arnall Downs, of the Community Redevelopment Agency, and Linda McGurn are going to cry about the "incessant trash" created by fliers, maybe they haven't been down University Ave. before, during or after a Gator home game.

Without looking at the city's budget, I am sure they spend far more for clean-up following the seven home games a year than they ever could taking down a few out-of-date fliers. If they want to truly mitigate trash in the area, they need to empty those new terra-cotta trash cans more frequently than they are-the one in front of the Civic Media Center has been overflowing on two consecutive weeks.

3. "Fliers Are Disrupting the Beautification Efforts of Gainesville"
I suppose this is a little more subjective. Several commissioners mentioned that fliers are not part of the city's ongoing revitalization and beautification strategy. And therefore fliering has to go.

I'm not going to take any cheap shots at this "strategy" by bringing up such wonders of redevelopment as Union Street Station ("Hello, Hooters!"), the Looking Glass shoeboxes, er Apartments, in the Student Ghetto or the Butler Plaza Parking Lot, I mean Shopping Center.

Again it is clear that there is a very simple double standard in Gainesville when in comes to what is considered a nuisance or eyesore. If people or community groups place a flier on a telephone pole we're ruining the beauty of Gainesville. But if you are a Fraternity (Delta Sigma house on NW 13th St. & 1st Ave) or a corporation (Miami Subs on University Ave & NW 12th St.; Scotty's on Newberry Rd.,) you can own your very own boarded up building overgrown with weeds and not ever be called on to do anything about it.

And of course if you have enough money to buy billboard or put another franchise along Newberry Road or Archer Road go right ahead! Those aren't nuisances and they certainly don't stand in the way of the beautification of Gainesville. Besides, who needs trees when you've got a Subway sign next to a Burger King sign next to a Chili's sign next to a Wal-Mart sign next to a...well, you get the point.

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