Rawls demands Council apology for sign removal
by DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor
Sep 24, 2013 | 2145 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Cleveland resident said Monday he was prepared to file suit against the city for violating his constitutional rights when officials removed a sign from his property during the governor’s visit in July.

Dan Rawls approached the City Council to ask for an apology for what happened when Gov. Bill Haslam visited the city in July.

City Manager Janice Casteel offered an apology but At-Large City Councilman George Poe did not.

None of the ensuing verbal exchange that followed was on the official record and might not appear in the minutes because it all occurred after Mayor Tom Rowland adjourned the meeting.

Rawls said both an elected and nonelected official violated his constitutional and civil rights by removing signage from his business, Performance Automotive, on South Church Street.

“I would like to have an apology, not only to myself, but to the citizens of Cleveland for that violation,” he said. “If this doesn’t happen, I’m going to pursue this further.”

Rawls said he waited this long because he wanted to let emotions settle down.

“But I’m going to move forward with a federal civil rights violation lawsuit over this if I don’t have an apology (in seven days),” he said.

“I want an acknowledgement that it was wrong. I’m giving those people the opportunity to do that to save everyone a lot of work, effort and money. I think it is the right thing to do.”

Rawls said that according to the city charter, neither Poe nor Casteel had authority to remove the signs.

“I’ve been told by multiple legal counsel there was no legal authority to do that,” he said. “I would like an apology. I think it was the wrong thing to do. Just because you don’t like what someone has to say, you cannot violate their constitutional right to say it.”

Rawls said if the signs were in the right of way, then codes enforcement should have removed them.

“Codes enforcement was there eight to 10 minutes after the incident. If there was a problem, they should have handled it. These two people have no police authority and they have no codes enforcement authority,” he said.

Casteel said she was the one who removed the signs because one was attached to a stop sign and the other was taped to a telephone pole.

“Those are clear violations of the city code and I tried to explain to Mr. Rawls that I didn’t know they were his signs, because he is on a corner lot,” she said.

“I apologized because I did not know they were your signs. If I offended you in any way, I also apologize for that, but I do routinely take down signs, like yard sale signs, if they are on telephone poles [or other public property] or if a sign falls, then I’ll try to find the owner so they understand what our code says.

“I do get involved and that may be wrong. That may not be what you want me to do and that may not be what the code authorizes me to do, but I did do that. But, I’m glad to apologize to you. I’m just sorry you did not know you couldn’t place the signs there.

“I will also say that he has the right to whatever message he wants to put on his sign, but they must be on his property and not attached to anything like a sign post or a utility pole.”

Though Casteel returned the signs to Rawls, he said that was not the point.

“You have a certain civil authority. You exceeded that civil authority and I believe that had those signs said ‘Yee-ha Haslam, you’re the greatest thing since gravy,’ the signs would not have been torn down.”

Poe said, “First of all, I don’t feel like I owe anybody an apology. I’ve apologized to a lot of people in my lifetime, but I don’t think I owe you an apology,” Poe said. “That’s just the difference in opinion.”

He said the signs were clearly in the right of way “and this is all my fault because I called Miss Casteel and told her the signs were out there on the right of way. Nobody, anywhere, other than the state, or federal government that I know of, can erect a sign of any kind on a right of way.

“And no sir, I’m not apologizing to you. I may go to jail but I’m not apologizing to you. I don’t owe you an apology. I don’t appreciate the way you came out there screaming and hollering and waving your arms and no sir, I will not apologize to you so you do what you have to do.”

Rawls said, “And my rebuttal to you is —,”

“I don’t want your advice,” Poe responded.

“I don’t care,” Rawls said back. “I listened to you. Now you’re going to listen to me —.”

At that point, one of the councilmen asked if the meeting was adjourned. Rowland affirmed that it was adjourned and they began leaving the dais.

The incident occurred July 11, during the governor’s visit. The signs reportedly were in protest of Haslam and Common Core, an educational standards program.