City Council Discussion Over Profane Signs Raise Internal Tensions

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A Grand Island City Council discussion Tuesday night over profanity-laced signs put up by property owner Larry Tourangeau turned into a battle between departments.

The City Council spent quite a bit of time discussing an ordinance that would have allowed the Council, instead of the Building Department, to abate the signs on 3rd and 5th Streets. The council struck down the ordinance, but the discussion revealed friction between the Building and Legal Departments on this issue.

That tension continued as the Council discussed a resolution that would require the city to get a court order to take down the signs. After more than an hour of discussion, the city decided that a court order is the way to go, with a vote of 5-3, with Mayor Jay Vavricek also voting "yes."

The decision comes two weeks after the City Council passed a resolution saying that the roadside signs Tourangeau put up at his properties have to go. It's a decision Tourangeau said he won't accept.

"I will not take them down. I'll appeal it all the way to the United States Supreme Court if I have to, and it probably will go that far," Tourangeau said.

The City said the signs are illegal because they are too large and were put up without a permit. Tourangeau countered that it's censorship.

"If I put that Grand Island was a nice place to live, you think they would be calling it a nuisance? So basically they're calling it a nuisance in a way to censor my constitutional right to free speech. They're conspiring to obstruct my freedom of speech. Distasteful as they are, they're still free speech signs," said Tourangeau.

But officials said that isn't the case. The signs would have to go even if they were blank. Recently unidentified individuals have crossed out and painted over parts of Tourangeau's signs.

"We believe they do because they are at this point then just a blackboard for more graffiti, which is really what this constitutes in some ways also," explained Grand Island City Administrator Mary Lou Brown.

City council members said that it was just time to get this situation over with. If Tourangeau puts up new signs, as he has said he will, the city said that they will just deal with it then.