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Flat Rock agrees to amend ordinance regulating political signs

A federal judge has ordered the Village of Flat Rock to amend its ordinance on political yard signs by working with the organization that sued to strike it down.


Former council member and current council candidate Anne Coletta, her husband, Paul, and the organization they founded, Cultural Landscape Group: Flat Rock, filed the lawsuit against the village in July saying that the ordinance governing yard signs restricted their free speech rights. In a joint motion filed by the attorneys for the village and the plaintiffs, the village agreed that the Colettas and their attorneys "would actively participate in the process" of amending the sign control ordinance. In an order filed last week, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger barred the village from enforcing regulations "against any political sign" and gave the two sides 60 days to revise the sign rules in a way that is acceptable to both sides.

In a statement, Coletta praised the judge's order as "a huge victory in protecting Flat Rock citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of speech."

“Beginning in January 2018, when CLG first asked the Village of Flat Rock to have the sign control ordinance reviewed by experts in First Amendment issues, we have only asked for changes that would support our constitutional right to freedom of speech and protect the beauty of Flat Rock,” she said. “Unfortunately, that review did not happen, and what could have been handled quickly and easily by the village council necessitated legal action. We are pleased that the issue is now moving toward a resolution and we hope future village councils will respect their citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Mayor Bob Staton said he and Sharon Alexander, the village's attorney, are in the process of rewriting the ordinance to make it "content neutral with respect to constititional rights." Once the draft is complete, he said, the village's attorneys from an Asheville law firm will share it with the plaintiff's attorneys.

"They've been cooperative, producing a model ordinance that they find acceptable that was not much different from what we had found," he said.

The Colettas are represented by Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington, D.C.-based law firm with more than 2,500 attorneys worldwide, and received assistance from the Institute for Justice. The institute, which bills itself as the National Law Firm for Liberty, is a nonprofit public interest organization that "combines cutting-edge litigation, sophisticated media relations, strategic research, boots-on-the-ground advocacy and much more to fight on behalf of those individuals who are denied their constitutional rights." Kirkland & Ellis and the institute "will be working with the Village of Flat Rock on rewriting the sign control ordinance to comply with our First Amendment rights," Coletta said.

The lawsuit has become an issue in the campaign for the Village Council seat that Coletta is seeking to regain. Incumbent Ginger Brown said during a campaign kickoff event last week that the lawsuit is costing taxpayers money.

"Anne Coletta is suing the Village of Flat Rock and costing us all money and at the same time she is running for a seat on the council. I don’t know how this is working," Brown said. "It’s difficult for me to understand."