Resident feels First Amendment rights targeted due to town issued violation
By David Yarger
The Town of Niagara Town Board met for their monthly meeting Tuesday night and heard from an unhappy resident.
The resident, Charles LaGreca, said he created "Impeach Trump: Make America Great Again" signs and was issued a violation from Building Inspector Charles Haseley. LaGreca said the violation was a $350 fine and, if not paid, could've led to further action.
In the town code for political signs, a sign may be placed 14 days before an election and removed shortly after with a permit to compliance. LeGreca said, though, his sign was not political, it was a sign expressing his freedom of speech.
"This is a First Amendment sign. My freedom of speech, my rights to protest what I don't like in this country, under the First Amendment of this Constitution," LaGreca said. "I asked him (Haseley) 'What is the difference between repeal the safe gun act that I see all over the Town of Niagara, and Impeach Trump: Make America Great Again?' He had a very distinct opinion about that - 'Oh, well you're targeting a sitting president.' I said, 'There's no difference, whatsoever and your response indicates bias.' "
LaGreca said within 48 hours of posting his sign, the violation was received. He noted a past violation by a neighbor that wasn't taken care of for over five months and he said, "Very interesting how this little sign rose to the top of the priority list for the Town of Niagara."
The past encounter, LaGreca said, involved a neighbor fixing several cars in a one-car garage, which resulted in the death of a tree, due to "battery acid or whatever they were doing."
"I had to go there and I had a realtor say, 'You can knock 10 grand off your property in the Town of Niagara because of that action.' I had to wait and threaten him and say 'Do I have to get Judge Faso and walk him around Sunnydale to see what action I'm living? And that's because you won't enforce the violations?'
"Well, the next morning, Mr. Haseley comes out - 11 violations - and that took me five months. But it's really interesting how an 'Impeach Trump' sign goes to the top of the priority list. ...
"I'm telling you right now, this is my First Amendment and I'm challenging you to put aside these petty politics that work in this area, because I know them very well, and be impartial with impunity to everybody. ... I'm requesting you look at your code line laws and delineate, what's a political sign and what's a First Amendment, freedom of speech sign," LaGreca said.
Supervisor Lee Wallace and Town Councilman Marc Carpenter understood LaGreca's frustration.
"I think we have not really discussed it (sign code) as a board - we've only had one work session and that was last week. ... I won't disagree with your position," Wallace said. "I do believe that there are some differences between political signs and freedom of speech. We will be looking into the code and we will be taking a look at what constitutes a political sign and what does not. ... Nobody on this board wants to trample on anybody's First Amendment rights."
Wallace said the process will take a little time and told LaGreca he can keep his sign.
Carpenter said, "As you notice throughout the town, we allow, at least I feel we should allow. The Safe Act signs have been up for quite a long time. ... There's a lot of signs that people put out that have not been targeted and not told to take them down. I feel, unfortunately in this case, you were unfairly targeted. We will look into it and certainly the freedom of speech to display who you support or don't support is your First Amendment right."
Following the meeting, LaGreca said he was upbeat from what he heard from the Town Board.
"I'm very (happy) by the fact that the board members heard me, and they realize and recognize that this was politically motivated and they're not going to support it," he said.
LaGreca added, "When somebody's voice is taken away and somebody feels they can flex their muscle and make that happen, then I'm gonna stand up. I'm gonna stand up for your rights and my rights - freedom of speech, First Amendment."
LaGreca said he didn't know what to expect walking into the meeting and that he spoke his mind and felt satisfied that the board listened and are take everything into consideration. He also said he has all the confidence in the board that they'll do the right thing.
In other news:
· The Town Board approved the reimbursement of $78,122.20 for sewer overcharging to the Fashion Outlets Mall. The fee will be paid over a six-year period beginning in 2018 and ending in 2023.
·The board added Lindsey D'Avolio, Craig Guiliani and Christopher Jurczak to active rolls of the Niagara Active Hose Fire Company.
·The board approved a negative declaration for the acceptance of property at 4435-4445 Military Road and authorized Wallace to sign and file all state environmental quality review act, real estate transfer and indemnity agreement with Niagara County documents. Wallace said, "This is legal documentation for us to take ownership of the Grenga eyesore property at the corner of Military and Grauer." The board then accepted the low bid from C&S Companies for the demolition and clean up of that property not to exceed $47,000. Funding for the demolition and environmental cleanup will come from a $350,000 brownsfield grant secured through Niagara County Browndfield and the Niagara County Redevlopment Office.
·Wallace and Councilman Charles Teixeira praised a new project by the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeepers to fix flooding issues around Roberts Drive and Tuscarora Road in their closing comments. Check wnypapers.com for a full report on the project.
·Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso announced the next Town Board meeting will be held a week earlier at 6 p.m., Aug. 14.