A patriotic “We Support Our Troops” banner that has been placed at various businesses for the past 10 years has been at the center of controversy in Little Falls.
The Little Falls City Council Monday heard from six residents against the city taking the banner down, which currently is hung outside the former American National Bank located, on what is known as “Bank Square” in Little Falls. No action was taken on the banner.
Interim city administrator Lori Kasella said the issue of taking the banner down began when the city received more than a dozen complaints that Little Falls resident, Robin Hensel, had too many signs in her yard and that it was against the city’s sign ordinance.
“The complaints were that her yard was full of signs,” said Kasella. “It wasn’t so much about what was on the signs themselves, but that the signs were neon green and neon yellow and there were so many of them that it became a traffic issue.”
Kasella said that the signs were against the city ordinance and Hensel was asked to remove them. Kasella said at first Hensel did not remove them after the city sent a “nice” letter asking her to remove the signs. However, after a second letter was sent Hensel removed the signs that included sayings that revolved around the Occupy Wall Street movement. She then placed them in her van.
Hensel filed a complaint Friday with the city requesting that the city should remove the “We Support Our Troops” banner from the bank as it violated the city’s ordinance regarding signs in the historic district. This complaint made residents upset, who compiled their own letter with a dozen signatures supporting that the banner stay up at the bank.
The letter states, “To ask the city to take the ‘We Support Our Troops’ sign down is not only aggravating it is disgusting. As residents of Little Falls we are proud to display this sign and ... are proud to state ‘We Support Our Troops.’ Men and woman have died for us to be free, the minimum we can do it support them.”
The letter also said that the signs on Hensel’s property are a distraction.
Hensel’s letter to the city, said, “This should be reviewed by the city’s planning and zoning commission. In that it (the banner) was put up in error, the council should address this and correct it without me pursuing this further. I have received death threats toward myself and my family and cannot risk my safety and their’s ... One individual should not need to risk their life, to have city council uniformly enforce the sign ordinance.”
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Hensel, who wasn’t at the council meeting, said her freedom of free speech has been violated and since the story broke on Jan. 29 she has received death threats over the Internet on the issue.
Hensel said the issue is not the contents of what is written on her signs or the banner. It’s about the city following its own ordinance. Hensel said she can’t have signs in her yard because it’s against city ordinance, and she said the banner on the bank building also is against the sign ordinance regarding historic buildings. Hensel said the banner should have a permit from the city and it doesn’t; and it also is bigger than what the ordinance allows. Hensel said there also is a requirement that the sign can only be up for a month and it has to be renewed for one or two months if it stays up longer.
When asked if the banner is against city ordinance, Kasella said yes and no. Kasella said the city doesn’t allow banners in historical areas. However, the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission has the right to deviate from the policy. Kasella said the commission is recommending board to the city council and that the city has the ultimate say on what actions would be brought on issues.
At this time, Kasella said the planning commission will review the sign ordinance and make a recommendation to the city council. Kasella said the sign ordinance was going to be reviewed in 2010, but the then the building inspector left the city and the project was put on hold.
“I’m going to go on with my life,” said Hensel, when asked what she would do next. “My kids are fearful for my life and they want me to back off ... I’m going to continue to be a part of the peace group and Occupy Wall Street.
“(As for the city taking down the sign) I want it to be taken down if it is illegal. I shouldn’t have to say anything to the city to take it down. They are aware of the error and how unethical it is ... It’s a great disappointment to me. People think that I’m a terrible person and that is the furthest from the truth. I’m a respected individual and I’m proud of the peace group here and standing up for veterans.”
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.