CLEARWATER — The Clearwater City Council on Monday approved a $55,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by the owners of a local bait and tackle shop, the Complete Angler, that has a mural of game fish painted on an outside wall.
Herb and Lori Quintero opened the store at 705 N Fort Harrison Ave. last year, and they always have contended the mural is a work of art, not a sign. The city claimed it was an unauthorized sign and a code violation and started fining the Quinteros hundreds of dollars when they refused to remove it.
The case triggered an avalanche of negative publicity for Clearwater as the Quinteros accused the city of violating their First Amendment rights. The dispute ended up in federal court.
The case had not gone to trial yet, but remarks by two federal judges who reviewed the case led city attorneys to believe that Clearwater was likely to lose. So they negotiated a settlement.
The $55,000 payment will pay for legal costs for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the Quinteros in federal court.
Clearwater officials said today that they will review the city's sign policy.