NEENAH (NBC 26) — Many Neenah residents are displaying yard signs showing that they're against the rezoning of the Shattuck Middle School property. But this month, some of the residents received notices of violation from the city.
“The Floreks received a notice of violation that they had to remove their sign in their yard that was protesting the rezoning of Shattuck Middle School,” said Dan Lennington, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty Deputy Counsel.
Under the ordinance that was listed, the Floreks could be fined for not removing the sign.
“The Floreks believe that they were just exercising their right to freedom of speech,” said Lennington.
According to David Rashid, the city attorney: “They are "portable" signs under our ordinance (Sec. 24-132(8)) and as such can only be up for periods of 30 days within a 90-day period. This is true of any such sign whether in the Shattuck neighborhood or elsewhere and regardless of the signs' message.”
The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty (W.I.L.L.) argues that the city is engaging in content restriction.
“All these opinions need to be respected and we need a content-neutral ordinance to do that,” said Lennington.
But according to Rashid: “The ordinance of the City is consistent with the law and is being consistently applied. Municipalities may regulate the size, place, and manner of keeping signs, so long as those rules are content-neutral. That's what Sec. 24-132(8) does.”
The signs were made by Sara Kranpitz, a Shattuck neighborhood resident.
“There was a Facebook group of some neighbors that were against the rezoning, and I posed the questions on there, what if we got yard signs?” said Kranpitz. “The signs went like that, the first order of 100 went within a day.”
She believes the signs helped bring awareness to what was happening in the neighborhood.
In the letter to the city, W.I.L.L. made it clear that the Floreks would not be removing their yard signs.
“And we've asked the city to respond to us by next week or we're going to file a federal lawsuit to enforce the First Amendment,” said Lennington.
“Residents who feel that the enforcement action is unfair can speak to our code enforcement officer, and the discussion always revolves around compliance, as opposed to 'punishment,'" Rashid said.
Residents just want one thing.
"We want to protect the single-family neighborhood vibe, that's it,” said Kranpitz.