Thompson warns council to remove banner coverings

Thompson warns council to remove banner coverings
Ian Thompson, the husband of late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, addresses the City Council March 28, demanding that the city remove the material masking his late wife's image from the Arts Alive banners. Photo by Wehtahnah Tucker

ENCINITAS — The city is violating the first amendment by masking the image of late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan on the backs of banners hung on lampposts as part of the Arts Alive program, Encinitas resident and Houlihan’s widower Ian Thompson told the council Wednesday.“You’ve used the legal premise that per the city code, images of politicians are prohibited from appearing on banners that hang on city property,” said Thompson.

Organizers of the Arts Alive banner program, a decades-old tradition where local artists create works of art on banners to hang on street side lampposts and later auction off, sought to display a likeness of Houlihan, on the backs of the banners only to be denied by City Manager Gus Vina during the permitting process. The banners received the necessary permits after organizers decided to place a blue vinyl sticker over Houlihan’s image, which could be removed once the banners came down.

In letters to the council from the Coast Law Group and the ACLU, attorneys argued that the decision amounts to “viewpoint” decision-making and is a violation of the first amendment; both letters cite numerous legal precedence.

The city code that Vina referenced in the decision to cover the image reads, “Said banners are for civic and non-profit, city wide recognized special events.” Vina has said that the image of a political figure would not fit within that language.

“Council majority, Encinitas is now under observation by the ACLU for a violation of the first amendment,” Thompson said. “In case you’ve forgotten, the first amendment pertains to every American and prevents the government, and I quote ‘abridging our freedom of speech.’”

Thompson said the council had a deadline of April 6 to remove the coverings that hide Houlihan’s image. He said outside of council chambers that if the council doesn’t comply “it will be sending a clear statement to the citizens of Encinitas that the will of the council majority supersedes the constitution of the United States.”

Deputy Mayor Kristin Gaspar asked Vina, after several additional speakers supported Thompson’s call to action, whether the council voted to have the image covered. While the answer was “no,” Thompson said that was a ruse. “I think her question was disingenuous and well rehearsed,” Thompson said later. “(The decision) didn’t need a vote of the council. They are the managers of this city.”

Voicing the frustration of more than a few residents in the room, one resident called for conciliation.

“Rather than government of the people, for the people, by the people it is government of special interests, for special interests, by special interests,” Gerald Sadomka told the council. “How about all of us working together for good government?”

Livia Borak, an attorney at Coast Law Group, representing Thompson, spoke at the end of the four-hour meeting. She noted that the city manager works for the city council. “This decision was viewpoint based,” she said. “These rules cannot be made on the spot, they simply cannot.”

“It’s shameful that you would try to marginalize and detract from the legacy of a woman who made so many contributions in so many ways to this community, especially in death when she is no longer able to defend herself,” Thompson told the council.

In May all of the banners will be made available for auction.



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  1. Cyrus Kamada says:

    The more I think about this, the more I see a fundamental connection between the covering of Maggie’s image on the arts banners, and the passing over of Teresa Barth in the mayoral rotation. In both cases, it is an unwillingness on the part of those in power, to allow their principle opponents to receive any positive public attention. In Maggie’s case, this unwillingness persists even beyond her time on earth, an incredible testimony to the level of insecurity involved.

  2. Olivier says:

    Petty politics at its best. Shame on our city leaders for their smallness

  3. Lynn Marr says:

    In addition to Coast Law Group and the ACLU, I would recommend that Ian Thompson might contact the First Amendment Coalition of California. I feel certain they also would be supportive of the fact that Maggie Houlihan’s image on the back of the banners does not violate Encinitas Code or any specific policy. On the contrary, banning Maggie’s printed image violates the First Amendment, as any citizen, or first year law student can clearly understand. More and more voters in Encinitas are becoming aware of the petty politics being played by Jerome Stocks and his seeming puppet, Kristin Gaspar.

    The City Manager did not make his decision, in a vacuum, determining that the banners could not be permitted to be displayed with Maggie’s likeness on the back, as a tribute. Apparently, he got his direction from Jerome Stocks, our current mayor.

    However, we continue to hope that our new city manager will learn to be more thoughtful and to think independently, to be so bold as to suggest, WITHOUT OUR HAVING TO RESORT TO THREATS OF LAWSUITS, that our city code does NOT refer, anywhere, to banning images on “political grounds,” and that our city’s doing would serve to further alienate the public by denying us our freedom of expression, when that expression clearly causes no harm. This is another example of Jerome’s arrogant, insulting behavior. From our perspective, he dishonors himself, and cannot touch Maggie Houlihan, who is beyond his petty, small mindedness.

  4. Really says:

    Barth is vina’s boss too, and they all voted to hire him and rehire him. It would be against the law for vina to take direction from the council majority without a public vote. Vina would not do that and if he did Barth would never vote to rehire someone who participates in unethical and unlawful practices. Don’t blame the council, including Barth. Vina had the responsibility and power over this situation.

  5. Julie Graboi says:

    I was the 5th speaker during the Oral Communications segment of the March 28 Council meeting. After Mr. Thompson’s presentation and it was noted that the 6th speaker was Livia Borak, representing Coast Law Group, I thought it important for Mr. Thompson’s lawyer to have the opportunity to comment. I went to the City Clerk and asked if I could offer my spot to Ms. Borak, and was told that this was not allowed.

    I am deeply offended that this decision deprived Mr. Thompson of an opportunity to have more discussion about an issue that is so personal to him, and which is equally important to many others in Encinitas. Moreover, I find it disrespectful to Livia Borak, who in addition to representing Coast Law Group, is also an Encinitas citizen.

    Couldn’t there have been a better option than making her wait 4 ½ hours to do a 3 minute oral presentation?

  6. David Smith says:

    Mr Ian Thompson

    I would like to personally and publicly thank you for your very eloquent and informative presentation. Although I didn’t always agree with Maggie’s perspective. it was abundantly clear that her actions and efforts were performed on behalf of the constituency she represented, and we are blessed because our city is a much a better place because of this.

    I sincerely support your efforts to allow our city at large to properly celebrate her numerous contributions and accomplishments and allow us all to come to a proper closure with her untimely passing.

    I offer you this quote to aid you in your efforts.

    “In reality, there is no death because you are not the body. Let the body be there or not be there, your existence is always there; it is eternal…”

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