Baxter City Council investigates flag obscenities

“Now my comments are not about political candidates or politics or that sort of thing,” said Baxter resident Dr James Roelofs. “This is the use of offensive language in our community. I think this language is offensive. Not the public face we want to have in our community.

Roelofs was the only public speaker during the January 4 public comment portion Baxter City Council Meeting.

“We currently have a house that has two political flags and manages to display the ‘F’ word three times on Memorywood and Travine Drive in Baxter,” Roelofs said. “Again, (they are) easily readable from your car while driving.”

RELATED: Flag with curse prompts man to ask Crow Wing County for regulation

With the signs easily visible, Roelofs encouraged the council to research options and find a way to eliminate offensive types of language from city signs and incorporate flags into the city’s definition of “political signals.” .

Mayor Darrel Olson said on Friday that city officials had asked their lawyer to review the legal situation and provide a recommendation to council.

Russ Wicklund, Baxter’s deputy police chief, said he could not recall any ordinances regulating signage on city-controlled roads.

“Yet if we just sit back and do nothing, we fall to the lowest common denominator,” Roelofs said. “I think it’s probably not good for the passing kids. It’s not great for visitors to our community. It could negatively affect the real estate market, and I just think that as a community we are better than that. … Thank you.”

The next meeting of the Baxter city council is scheduled for January 18 at 7 p.m.

Crow Wing County Council also recently passed on a comment from a seasonal Crosslake resident, who asked commissioners to consider passing an ordinance regulating obscenities on signage. In November, Steve Roell shared his experience with a neighbor flying a 3-by-5-foot flag and displaying the words “**** Biden” in reference to the president. He said the flag prevented him from enjoying the Whitefish Channel alongside his grandchildren.

Roell noted that some legal interpretations, including those of the US Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, support the idea that obscenity is outside of the speech protected in the First Amendment, thus allowing governments to regulate it. He referred to a recently passed amendment to a billboard ordinance in a community elsewhere that now includes the line: “Signs that bear or contain statements, words or images that are obscene, pornographic, immoral or which contain false advertisements ”are prohibited.

County administrator Tim Houle said at the meeting that he believes a city or county could pass an ordinance, but it’s a matter of tolerance to defend it. He pointed to an ordinance passed by the City of Little Falls in 2012 and the time they spent in court arguing for it after the passage.

Editor-in-Chief TIM SPEIER can be reached on Twitter @ timmy2thyme, call 218-855-5859 or email [email protected].

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