This story has it all: politics, courtroom drama, villains, heroes, and a lot of dick jokes. I like Eric Dick and his wife, Mrs. Dick, who recently brought their new baby Dick to the Downtown Houston Pachyderm Club. Of course, a story about Eric Dick is incomplete without mentioning the greatest press release of all time: “Parker afraid of Dick.” Ok, I am finished with the jokes; but, I am sure Eric isn’t, which will allow for an entertaining city election season. How can you not like a guy who makes fun of his own name?
Did Eric’s sign company put signs in improper locations? Of course they did. Was it wrong of them to do so, yes! Do Eric and Clyde Bryan deserve to be prosecuted for sign violations? I say no for three reasons: (1) the city is engaging in selective prosecution, (2) a letter from the city attorney created a mistake of law, and (3) the signs at issue were not placed by the candidates themselves.
Eric received 90 citations from the City of Houston regarding sign violations. Not to be overshadowed, Clyde Bryan received 41 violations. Out of all city candidates in 2011, the municipal prosecutors continue to vigorously prosecute Eric and Clyde; so, it seems safe to say that these two men have been targeted by the Parker administration. It also just so happens that Eric and Clyde are conservatives. I will note that all of Clyde’s remaining cases were on Election Day and notice (that will later be described) was not provided by the city. And, the violation that will get the quickest not guilty is the citation that Eric received for someone else having an Eric Dick sign on his vehicle. I can’t wait for a jury to hear that one.
First, there are two separate laws the city is using to prosecute cases against Eric and Clyde. One is a general sign ordinance or sign code Sec. 4605(a), which calls for a fine ranging from $300-$500.
Sec. 4605(a) Permit Required. No person shall erect, reconstruct, alter, relocate or use a sign within the sign code application area without first having secured a written permit from the Sign Administrator to do so, subject to the exceptions set forth in Section 4605(b). It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this subsection if a sign is excepted from having a permit under Section 4605(b).
The other law is a political sign ordinance that carries a lower minimum fine.
Sec. 28-38. – Painting or posting advertising matter on curbs, sidewalks, bridges or public buildings.
No person in the city shall paint, print, post, or otherwise display any poster, picture, bill or advertising matter of any kind in, at or upon any curb, sidewalk or other public improvement in any public street or grounds, any bridge or part of same, any public building, structure or erection of any kind belonging to the city, or any other public place, unless express consent therefor shall have been first granted by the city council and entered on its minutes.
Sec. 28-39. Posting advertising matter on utility poles, trees, traffic signs, etc.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to place or cause to be placed, whether by posting, nailing, pasting, gluing or the use of any cohesive substance or in any manner whatever, any advertising sign, poster, political advertisement, gummed label, bumper sticker, or any other advertising matter whatever on any utility pole, tree, fence, fire hydrant, street light standard, traffic light standard, stop sign or other traffic directional sign standard, or on any other structure of any kind whatsoever located in the public streets, sidewalks, alleyways, easements, public property, or any other public place in this city.
(b) Any person violating any provision of this section, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 for each violation, and each day that the violation continues shall constitute a separate offense.
The city is using the general sign ordinance, which carries the higher minimum fine, to prosecute Eric and Clyde. As you can see, the political sign ordinance more appropriately covers the allegations in this situation.
On Friday, I attended a press conference held by Eric, Clyde Bryan, and their attorney, Paul Kubosh. Yvonne Larsen also attended and videotaped the event and I am always grateful to Yvonne for her spirit insight, tenacity, and integrity. Please take some time to look at the press conference and I will try and tell you the rest of the story.
In Houston, the City Attorney is responsible for the hiring and firing of City of Houston municipal prosecutors. David Feldman has served as Annise Parker’s city attorney since her inauguration in January 2010.
In preparation for the 2011 city elections, Mr. Feldman sent a letter, which has now become crucial evidence in the sign litigation/prosecution of Clyde Bryan. I believe that Mr. Feldman sent this letter to all candidates in the 2011 election cycle. This letter explains that all candidates would receive 24 hours’ notice for all sign violations. Then, if the sign was not removed, a citation could be written. This is important because this caveat is not included in the relevant ordinances.
Paul Kubosh, an expert attorney in municipal cases, represents Eric and Clyde on these sign citation cases. Kubosh presented the Feldman letter as an exhibit in one of the recent trials because the letter created a “mistake of law.” Most people have heard that ignorance of the law is no excuse. This is different because the Feldman letter was an official statement of the law and the candidates relied on his words that no citation would be issued until notice was provided and a chance to correct the error was given.
Generally, volunteers, family members, and sign companies place political signs. Volunteers and family members are likely unfamiliar with the city’s sign code and sign companies likely don’t care about the rules. Here, two different sign companies were involved with the sign placement for Eric and Clyde.
Clyde’s sign placement was done by one of the older, more established companies known as RS sign company for the sake of this article. RS is responsible for sign placement in many locations and has a reputation for placing signs in the public right-of-way. Through its tenure, RS has been able to establish a near monopoly at some early voting locations. If RS is doing your signs, rest assured you will have great placement in the early voting locations, your signs will be maintained overnight, and, sometimes, signs for your opponents will disappear. One of my greatest moments related to political signs happened early one morning when I was working on sign placement for my wife. After some work, I figured out how to place her sign above her opponent’s sign on an immaculately maintained fence at an early voting location. Upon completion of my sign placement, I looked up to see the leader of the RS company wave in my direction, which I considered to be a thumbs up. It was a great day!
Eric used a lesser known sign company, which I will call company X. You have seen company X’s work on freeway overpasses, utility poles, and public rights-of-way. Signs placed by company X leave one question: how did they do that? Well, I happen to know that it is a closely guarded trade secret with company X and I am not going to reveal their secrets on the Internet.
Now, both companies are familiar with Reggie, the chief sign enforcer for the City of Houston. The companies know what kind of trucks and ladders Reggie uses for sign removal and the exact height to prevent Reggie’s guys from reaching the signs. Political signage involves very sophisticated operations and is not for the faint of heart. The work requires special equipment and these unique operators work best when the sun goes down. I am hearing night vision will soon be deployed with one or more of these companies.
While some parts of this story are humorous, this is a serious subject matter because the issue concerns free speech. Thankfully, Eric and Clyde have selected a lawyer who is always up for a righteous fight. Paul Kubosh fought the city on the establishment of red light cameras and the people of Houston overwhelmingly voted against these cameras. After the election, Mr. Feldman worked to overturn the vote of the people. Paul hired David Furlow, a lawyer and constitutional scholar, who successfully litigated the issue and the people’s vote was upheld. David was the lawyer who represented Marco and Jeanette DuBose when the Meyerland Community Improvement Associated attempted to prevent them from temporarily displaying political signs. If Mr. Feldman is selectively prosecuting Eric and Clyde because he perceives them as weak, he may want to find another battle somewhere else.
I suspect that the city will continue to be unsuccessful if they choose to selectively prosecute Eric and Clyde for signs placed by others. These men believe in conservative fiscal responsibility and any jury of their peers would see right through the government’s charade. At what point does the selective prosecution of these cases become official oppression? Mr. Feldman’s previous behavior concerning basic civil rights bears close scrutiny in this situation.
I leave you with this video clip from a Houston City Council meeting. Should the mayor really give voting advice from the council chamber? I report, you decide.
And a fun little video about signs:
Further reading about political signs in Houston
City of Houston warns candidates about use of political signs in advance of November’s election | abc13.com
City to crack down on bandit signs – Houston Chronicle
Houston City Council candidate criticized for illegal signs | khou.com Houston
City Not Enforcing Campaign Signs Law | Click2Houston
City Of Houston Campaign Sign Crackdown—My Two Favorite Signs « Texas Liberal
City of Houston Worker Stealing Campaign Signs Caught on Tape – More Dirty Tricks | Texas GOP Vote