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Pasco officials: Rooftop Obama sign must go

Joe Athas of Elfers refuses to get rid of the sign he spray-painted onto the roof of his uncle’s home.

JODIE TILLMAN | Times

Joe Athas of Elfers refuses to get rid of the sign he spray-painted onto the roof of his uncle’s home.

ELFERS — By his own assessment, Joe Athas is no trained artist.

"I'm like a spiritual artist," said Athas. "I go by what vision comes to me."

On the evening of Nov. 3, when he just knew his favored presidential candidate would pull off a win the next day, this is the vision that came to him: Obama. Biden. Roof.

He ran to Wal-Mart and bought red, white and blue spray paint. He came home, turned a spotlight on his roof, propped up a metal ladder and climbed up to work on the shingle canvas.

Hours later, his vision: "Obama and Joe The Men," the roof now read, with a peace sign in the Obama "O" and an eyeball with a heart-shaped pupil in the Joe "o."

Weeks later, his problem: By county code, political campaign signs must be removed within 15 days of the election.

And in the eyes of the county, that's just what the roof message is.

"That's a political sign, no matter how you look at it," said Richard Ortiz, Pasco's code compliance manager.

After receiving a complaint from a neighbor about the roof, Officer Jeff Eyers issued Athas a warning that gives him seven days to remove the message or else face a citation and, possibly, an $80 fine. Eyers said the spray-painted message, which he called "big and intrusive," also violates a county code that prohibits signs of any nature on roofs.

Athas, 47, maintains the message — which he describes as a play on all the "Joe the Plumber" talk during the campaign — is not a political statement but a "celebration" of a man he believes "will be the greatest leader this world has known."

What's more, he said, the message is now part of his Christmas decoration.

"I decided as I was doing it, it was going to be my Christmas decoration," he said.

He strung up red and blue Christmas tree lights, to represent the shape of the United States, around the roof's edges. A giant plastic Santa Claus stands just under the gutter.

"Santa Claus is kind of waving it on," he said.

Code violation or not, he said he won't remove the message until after the New Year. He says it's a freedom of speech issue.

"I try to teach my children to stand up for what you believe in," he said.

The neighbor who made the complaint against Athas declined to comment Friday. Athas chalks up the complaint to the man being not only a John McCain supporter but also a Cleveland Indians fan. ("I'm for the Rays," he said.)

No doubt, Athas' home is the most quirkily adorned on his densely populated street off State Road 54.

On Friday afternoon, a bandana-wearing Jesus statue on the front lawn held a baseball bat. Two of Athas' abstract oil paintings were propped up on a picnic table. A Superman bust reigned over an assortment of stone garden creatures.

In one lawn chair sat a plastic robot. On the back of another chair perched a parrot named Tether, which laughed and mimicked a ringing telephone.

Athas, who is divorced, lives with his 10-year-old son, Athano. He has two daughters, one who is grown and one who lives with her mother.

He has few conventional answers to conventional questions, including the old standby "What do you do for a living?"

He calls himself a "certified mixologist," or bartender. He has also made underground music videos, designed greeting cards and written poems, prayers and proverbs. He wants to start a church called "Cool Church." He calls himself an entrepreneur, a sports memorabilia collector, an inventor, a visionary.

"I believe I am here to touch and show people how to bring down true ignorance," he said.

At the moment, he said, he is on disability for chronic back and neck pain stemming from a work-related accident in Maryland years ago. (He said the pain is not too bad some days, which include the evening he climbed on his roof to paint his message.)

The house is actually owned by his elderly uncle, who lives in Maryland. But Athas said he does not think his uncle would mind the spray paint.

The roof was not in mint condition, anyway, Athas said, noting some patched-up areas.

So come January, how does he plan to get rid of the red, white and blue paint?

With black spray paint.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco officials: Rooftop Obama sign must go 11/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 7:44pm]
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