City rejects demand to remove sign

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson A card identifying Clovis People for Progress as the sponsor of a sign hung from Hotel Clovis is affixed to the bottom left corner of the banner encouraging support of an Affordable Housing Plan in an Aug. 2 special election.

Sharna Johnson

The city has rejected a demand to remove a “save me” sign on Hotel Clovis, taking the position the sign was legally placed at the prerogative of a developer leasing the building.

“The city has granted the lessee the right to ‘have, hold, possess and enjoy the property,’” City Attorney David Richards stated in a letter Thursday to Eric Dixon, attorney for Kim Runyan, treasurer of the High Plains Patriots.

“There is nothing in the lease that allows the city to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of the lessee,” Richards wrote.

Richards letter was written in response to a letter from Dixon sent earlier this week, which claimed the sign was in violation of campaign laws.

In his letter, Dixon demanded on behalf of the Patriots that the sign be removed by noon Thursday.

The sign, which reads “SAVE ME VOTE YES AUGUST 2nd,” pertains to a Tuesday special election being held to address whether the city should implement an affordable housing ordinance, which would allow the city to enter into financial arrangements with private developers.

Tierra Realty Trust LLC., a company owned by developer Steve Crozier, is leasing the building from the city and plans to convert the hotel into low-income housing through use of tax credits, private funding and loans and grants from the city.

City officials have said without passage of the Affordable Housing Plan, Crozier’s plan to develop the hotel will not be able to proceed.

Runyan could not be reached for comment.

Following the city commission’s approval of the affordable housing ordinance, the Patriots garnered the required number of signatures to force the ordinance to a referendum vote, which led to the special election.

Patriots President Tim Ashley said his group has not discussed taking legal steps to address the sign and that Runyan sought counsel as an individual.

He said he is not sure of the position the Patriots would take on the issue, but he said it is his opinion that “if they have a right to have a sign there, that’s fine.”

“If the lease allows the developer to do that, then that’s certainly within his rights, but if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be displayed,” he said.

In response to Dixon’s assertion that by not displaying the name of the sponsor who paid for the sign, it is in violation of campaign laws, Richards suggested he direct his demands to the “person, persons or organization responsible for the production and placement of the sign.”

Richards said no city resources, money or assets were used to produce or place the sign on the building.

As of Thursday a sponsorship statement could not be read from the street with the naked eye, but was visible with the assistance of a telephoto camera lens. In a photo taken of the sign on Monday by a Clovis News Journal photographer, the statement was not visible on the sign.

Lisa Dunagan, president of Clovis MainStreet — a nonprofit which promotes downtown revitalization and which has voiced support of the hotel project — said by email Thursday the sign was paid for by Clovis People for Progress and is marked as such.

“I have no idea when it was added. It may have been there all along,” she said of a printed card taped to the bottom left corner of the sign identifying “Clovis People for Progress” as the sponsor.

“This sign does state ‘paid for by People for Progress,’ as all the ads have done. It is in complete compliance. There is no reason to remove it,” she said.

Dixon said he planned to meet with his client and discuss the next step in light of the city’s response to his letter.

One possibility, he said, is to seek a declaratory injunction through the courts which would require the sign be removed.

“My position is a public building shouldn’t be used for campaign purposes and that’s what it’s being used for,” he said. “It’s still illegal what the city is doing.”

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said Clovis People for Progress is a diverse group of community members who have united in the interest of moving the city forward in a positive direction.

“They’re not happy with the constant turmoil in the community,” she said. “They’re just a group of concerned citizens.”

She said the group, which has no formal membership, structure or leadership, has fluid attendance at meetings and is comprised of business people, including realtors, lenders, retailers and professionals, as well as non-profit organizations, elected officials and more.

Brumfield said she has attended meetings but was not involved in starting or organizing the group.