Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg cites Maher Chevrolet for too many American flags, then retreats

ST. PETERSBURG — For roughly two decades, Michael Maher has proudly flown 11 American flags over his Maher Chevrolet dealership, in plain red-white-and-blue view of the thousands who drive by every day on U.S. 19.

But the long arm of St. Petersburg code enforcement recently concluded that the flags violate the city's sign ordinance, which generally allows no more than three flags at any one site.

The city ordered the dealership to take down the extra flags and pay a $143 fine.

The 11 flags draw attention to Maher's business. But for Maher, 68, a Corvette-loving former GM employee who was able to buy his own dealership, they have a deeper meaning. He's proud of America and its opportunities. He even hands out booklets containing the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. "I'm a pretty patriotic guy, that's all I can tell you."

He was stunned when he was asked to remove all but three of his flags.

"I'm very naive, but I couldn't imagine anyone would be talking about taking down the American flag," Maher said. "So put me in the naive category. It's just hard to believe."

Maher enlisted attorney Michael Siegel to help fight the fine and for his right to fly his American flags.

But he may not have to.

After hearing about the citation from the Tampa Bay Times, Mayor Bill Foster said Tuesday that he will suspend enforcement of the citation and has ordered officials to re-evaluate the city ordinance.

Foster has asked officials to see if the existing ordinance would allow someone with more property more leeway. For a larger business site such as a car lot, "they should have the right to fly more than three flags," Foster said.

Foster said it's possible that some changes to the ordinance might be drawn up and "I'll need to take it to council."

As Foster and attorney Siegel both noted, there is a key federal ruling on this issue that concerned another Chevrolet dealership just up the road. In that case, Clearwater accused Dimmit Chevrolet of violating its sign ordinance by flying 23 flags. In 1993, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Dimmitt, which was allowed to keep flying all its flags.

In that case, Clearwater allowed businesses up to two flags as long as the flags represented a "governmental unit." But that meant the city was regulating the content of flags, which violates freedom of speech, the federal courts said.

The St. Petersburg ordinance does not regulate the content of flags, but it does regulate the number.

St. Petersburg Assistant City Attorney Erica Smith said the city never intended to crack down on American flags. She said the city's sign ordinance prohibits more than three flags — no matter the message or design.

People can apply for a permit to receive an exemption, or even a variance to the sign ordinance, which in some cases could allow for more flags, she said. It's also possible for people to approach council members to suggest ordinance changes, she noted.

It's not exactly clear what led code enforcement to cite the dealership in December, or for that matter, how inspectors missed it for the past 20-odd years.

One theory, Siegel said, was that a new code enforcement officer wrote the citation. Foster and Smith said they didn't know what prompted it.

Comments
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

Rays journal: Rays shut out by Orioles in opener

By Joey JohnstonTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — Rays LHP Ryan Yarbrough deserved better Friday. But the offense didn't offer much, allowing the Orioles to escape with a 2-0 victory before an announced crowd of 11,354 at Tropicana Field."It ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.In July, absolutely.But, now?And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

Steve Yzerman’s summer plans: Make the Lightning better

TAMPA — Captain Steven Stamkos said the Lightning's window for contending for a Stanley Cup championship is not closing."I think it's wide open," he said Thursday, one day after the Lightning lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to the C...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still can’t stop bad judgment

It’s human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 8 hours ago
In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputies’ actions justified

TAMPA — Michael Bratt told a story.He said that Hernando County sheriff’s deputies attacked him in his home early one morning eight years ago, beat him severely on his front lawn, and continued the assault as they took him to a hospital.But another s...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Updated: 9 hours ago
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 11 hours ago