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Change to sign ordinance won’t stop federal lawsuit against Morrison

MORRISON – A federal lawsuit filed against the town by four residents will continue despite recent changes the town made to its sign ordinance.

Two Morrison couples filed suit in the Eastern District of U.S. Court in the spring against the town, Chairman Todd Christensen and town code enforcer Mark Roberts, alleging their constitutional rights were violated because they weren’t allowed to post anti-turbine signs in their yards.

James and Barbara Vanden Boogart and Jon and Lori Morehouse claim town officials have been selectively enforcing its sign ordinance by allowing pro-wind energy signs on some properties while trying to enforce the ordinance against others who oppose development of wind turbines in the town.

The two couples embarked on a campaign to protest enforcement of the ordinance by continuing to post signs, sometimes with anti-turbine messages and other times protesting the sign ordinance, and then removing them upon receiving notices to take them down from the town, the complaint says.

Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which is representing the two couples in the suit, said the town’s recent change to its sign ordinance is an acknowledgment that the old provision was unconstitutional and violated the couples right to free speech.

The old ordinance mostly prohibited all types of political, religious or personal message signs on lawns in residential and agricultural districts, according to Esenberg. The new ordinance allows property owners to place up to two noncommercial signs on each parcel, he said.

“They repealed their ordinance and replaced it with a better one,” Esenberg said. “However, there’s still the fact that the plaintiffs were prevented from exercising their rights for a period, and there needs to be some recompense, some remedy for that.”

He declined to say what compensation the couples’ were seeking.

Steven Gillis, the town’s lawyer, said the town changed some subsections of its sign ordinance earlier this summer, but he denied that it was because its previous ordinance was unconstitutional.

“Everybody has their own perspective on this thing,” Gillis said, adding that the town was in the process of developing changes to the ordinance well before the two couples filed their suit.

“The parties are diligently working toward the resolution of this lawsuit,” Gillis said.

The case is set for a scheduling conference early next month before U.S. District Judge William Griesbach.