WAUCONDA – A Wauconda law firm contended today that the village tried to force it to take down an anti-rodeo sign because the chamber of commerce objected to it.
But the police chief said the village was simply enforcing its sign ordinance.
At issue is a sign that reads, "Rodeos Abuse Animals – Boycott the Rodeo," in front of the Main Street law office shared by Thomas Gooch and Michael Gauthier. Wauconda's annual rodeo is this weekend.
On Thursday, an officer stopped his squad car with its emergency lights on in front of the office and walked in. Gauthier met with the officer.
"He said we're required to have proper permitting for any signs that go up on the building," the lawyer said. "He said he had authority to issue the ticket. He said he wasn't going to do it."
The officer advised the office get a permit. The office has not, and the sign is still up.
Gauthier said he told the officer that people must be angry about the sign. The officer replied that the Wauconda Area Chamber of Commerce complained, Gauthier said. No one answered the chamber's phone this afternoon.
Gauthier said his office's paralegal went to a couple of nearby businesses and that the owners reported that they had similar signs but hadn't applied for permits.
"Others found our speech distasteful. They tried to get the police to enforce their beliefs," he said.
Police Chief Patrick Yost said the department, which handles code enforcement, regularly enforces the sign ordinance.
"[The law office] was given the same courtesy that we give everyone else. They were given the opportunity to get the property permit to have the sign," he said.
The officer had his lights on because a nearby farmers market forced him to park in the street, partially obstructing traffic, Yost said.
"It was a matter of traffic safety," he said.
In a letter to the chief on Friday, Gooch, who is out of town, said he didn't need a special permit.
"These signs are temporary and of a political nature," Gooch wrote. "I do not need a special use permit to post such a sign any more than such a permit is issued for a political campaign sign at election time."
At first, Yost said Gooch's sign is in another category. Political signs, he said, deal with candidates and referendums.
After speaking with the village attorney, though, Yost said the sign could be construed as a political statement.
"It's a First Amendment issue, like if you put up a cross in your front yard," he said.
Gooch warned the city against taking action.
"You certainly have the right to arrest me over the signs that are on my building; however, rest assured that the civil litigation that will ensue thereafter will be verbose and costly," he wrote. "I trust you will consider my position on this, as opposed to the Chamber of Commerce's activities in improperly attempting to influence the actions of the police department."
The chief disliked the letter's tone.
"I think the letter is somewhat inappropriate for him to threaten the village with civil litigation that is verbose and costly," Yost said. "He is probably upset that he doesn't have all of the information. I have known him for years. Typically, he is an understanding person when he has all the facts."