Back in November 2011, the run-up to the election was going strong and, as is the long-standing tradition in Houston, there were election signs everywhere. Seriously. If your granny stood still long enough, someone was bound to attach an election sign to the front of her walker.
The thing is, Mayor Annise Parker had already announced in September that there would be a crackdown on improperly placed election signs and those who continued placing their signs on city property would be notified, given 24 hours to remove the signs and, if the signs were not removed, they would be taken down by city employees and the owners of the signs fined between $100 and $500, according to city ordinances.
Eric Dick -- then a candidate for city council, now a candidate for mayor -- had some fairly distinctive red and white campaign signs, and, in the days leading up to the 2011 election, he seemingly had them everywhere.
After Parker stated that those who crossed the legal line on the signage issue would be prosecuted, Dick issued the infamously titled press release "Parker Afraid of Dick," claiming the mayor was going after him particularly for his seemingly ubiquitous red and white signs.
Was it because Parker was specifically aiming at Dick or did Dick just happen to have a whole bunch of signs out? Either way, Dick and fellow Republican candidate Clyde Bryan were issued citations for more than 150 signs gone wrong. (Signs placed in the wrong spot by either the candidates, those working for the candidates or possibly just people who might enjoy going around town and moving election signs into illegal territory for the hell of it. This doesn't seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.)
Bryan and Dick have been waging a legal battle in municipal court on this issue of signage since November 2011. On Friday morning, the two held a press conference, along with their attorney, Paul Kubosh, in front of City Hall.
Clyde Bryan, Paul Kubush and Eric Dick talk election signs.
The sun was already warming up to this whole turn-downtown-Houston-into-a-frying-pan game that it likes to play in the summer, but a handful of people, about 15, gathered to hear them speak.
Bryan contends that he was never notified about his signs or given the 24-hour window to remove them before the citations were issued. He said his signs were placed outside of poll places, along with a bunch of other election signs, but only his were ordered removed.
David Dick, Eric's father, said he went out and personally removed a sign from the right-of-way area outside Kroger on West Gray. He even took pictures to show he had removed the sign, but he said someone put another Dick sign in its place after he'd removed it.
"I can see the mayor having a vendetta against him. He's a Republican, she's a Democrat. She's basically trying to get him and she's using public funds to do it," David Dick said.
Trebor Gordon, who plans to run for city council this fall, said the issue made him nervous, because he agreed with Dick and Bryan that it seemed politically motivated.
"It makes me want to be very careful when I'm running. and I'll instruct those working on my campaign to be very careful where they put the signs," Gordon said.
The crowd applauded Dick's comments on the issue after he noted that he had paid $100, as directed by the jury, while the City of Houston has spent the money to have a judge and jury on this case, a misappropriation of funds.
"She's violating our freedom of speech. She's deciding what speech is allowed and what isn't," Dick said, noting that since we celebrated our independence from Great Britain on the Fourth of July, it was time to make another declaration. "Let's declare our independence from the tyranny of Annise Parker."
This was met with some whoops and a smattering of applause -- the crowd was enthusiastic, but it was hot so that the enthusiasm was burbling up beneath a languid humidity-induced restraint.
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"First the IRS, now the City of Houston," a man called from the sidelines of the audience.
Dick nodded his head, repeating the lines. "First the IRS, now the City of Houston," he said, more clearly, in case the little crowd (or possibly the TV cameras) missed it the first time.
City Attorney David Feldman stated in an e-mail on Friday that the mayor was in the right on this issue and that Bryan and Dick got a lot of citations because they had a lot of signs and ignored the notices to move said signs.
"The City's Sign Code is enforced fairly and impartially, regardless of candidate or political affiliation," Feldman stated. "In the 2011 election cycle, all candidates were advised by letter, that they would be given 24 hours notice to remove illegally placed signs, and that if they did so within that 24 hour period, no citation would be issued. Most candidates complied. Those that did not were cited. Mr. Bryan and Mr. Dick were the most prodigious violators and they routinely ignored notices to remove their signs."