A small restaurant owner in Belleville, Ill., filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Monday claiming her city unconstitutionally ordered her to remove a sign from her window that sarcastically thanks city government.
Dianne Rogge, owner of the Pour Haus restaurant, posted a big sign in her business’s front window that read “No TIF for us, Tks B'ville.” Rogge claims that her request for $15,000 in tax increment financing— a form of public financing used to spur economic development—was rejected because she had openly supported Belleville mayor Mark Eckert’s opponent, Phil Elmore. She had hoped to use the TIF money to renovate her business.
City employees sent Rogge letters in June requesting she remove the sign or face a $500-a-day penalty. They cited a city ordinance that requires business owners to get a permit and pay a fee to put up signage. The sign, which has been up since June 5, has racked up more than $31,000 in fines, Rogge told a St. Louis television station.
Rogge's 20-page complaint, filed in federal court by attorney Eric Rhein, says Belleville’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional and is enforced in a discriminatory fashion. It claims that a former city attorney had posted political signs in his window that the city never forced him to remove. "They have to follow the First Amendment no matter who they are," Rhein told the Belleville News-Democrat. "It reigns supreme and political signs are afforded the highest amount of protection."
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the city from enforcing its ordinance, monetary damages to Rogge, attorney’s fees and punitive damages of $50,000, the local paper reported.
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