GULFPORT — Whose rights are more important — those of the resident who wants to keep his garbage cans and living room sofa in his front yard or those of the neighbor who doesn't want to have to look at them?
That's the underlying question the City Council grappled with during a 2 1/2 meeting last week.
The city's efforts to tidy up the town have split this arts community that — for the most part — prides itself on its weirdness. The four ordinances voted on last week were no exception.
The council voted to do the following:
• Approve on second reading, 4-0, increasing littering fines from $93 to $138;
• Approve on second reading, 4-0, prohibiting distribution of unsolicited pamphlets and fliers;
• Approve on first reading, 3-1, prohibiting the storage of garbage cans in front yards;
• Approve on first reading, 4-0, outlawing using indoor (upholstered) furniture outdoors.
The votes show that in the end, tidiness won out — but only after a lot of squabbling.
City Manager Jim O'Reilly called the measures "legislating common sense."
"A lot of people complain (about garbage cans in the front yard), but there is no law prohibiting it. Now there is," he said.
Council member Sam Henderson, who cast the dissenting vote on stowing garbage cans, said, "I don't want to tell people where to put their garbage cans."
When it looked as if the council was in a stalemate, O'Reilly suggested the vote be tabled until further review, something the council didn't want to do.
Vice Mayor David Hastings, running the meeting in Mayor Mike Yakes' absence, urged the council to vote on the issue.
"I don't think that's what Gulfport wants to look like," he said.
Council member Jennifer Salmon was in favor of the issue, but she was unsuccessful in her push to have the ordinance's wording changed to mandate a certain number of feet off the curb instead of completely out of sight.
The other contentious issue — prohibiting indoor furniture outdoors — was met with similar infighting.
City Attorney Andrew Salzman told council members that, yes, some decisions will take away an individual's right to artistic expression, but in the end, it's the council's call.
"You have to be comfortable with the community standards you set."
A Google search showed that many cities — especially college towns — prohibit upholstered furniture outside because it is a fire risk. Ann Arbor enacted a ban in 2010 after a University of Michigan student died in an off-campus house fire exacerbated by a porch couch.
The ability to enforce these new codes was also questioned.
When it was suggested that the police are not doing enough to remove "snipe signs," Chief Robert Vincent said officers pick them up when they can.
"I'm never going to tell officers it's a priority. Our priority is public safety," he said.