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July 02, 2004

BillBoard Hit List

Mark Twain once said "Never pick a fight with a person who buys ink by the barrel."

NC Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett might want to amend that to read, "or who sells advertising space by the square foot."

A new billboard in Harnett County calls him a profane name that also insults his intelligence.

The sign was put up by Sunshine Outdoor of Florida Inc., owned by Jerry Sullivan of Micanopy, Fla.

In February, Tippett sent a letter to Sunshine Outdoor asking it to refrain from posting "offensive billboard displays." Tippett said Gov. Mike Easley had asked him to respond to many letters about billboards for adult entertainment.

Sullivan fired back with the insult-laced billboard on I-95 near Dunn.
...
Tippett, who lives in Fayetteville, can drive by the billboard on his way home. In response to a request for an interview with the secretary, his department issued a written statement. It noted that the N.C. Outdoor Advertising Association had asked its members to limit offensive billboards.

The photo of the billboard can be seen here, or here in case of link rot. The website mentioned in the article is here.

Billboard owner Sullivan has been in the news before, most recenty for leasing a sign on Florida's Turnpike to a Neo-Nazi group.

A recruitment sign for the National Alliance -- a group that wants to create a new nation for the so-called "Aryan" people -- stood for months on the highway just north of the Lake County line with bold block type that said, "WHO RULE$ AMERIKA?" and gave an Internet address for the group. The billboard went up to reach an audience of like-minded people, Nweze said. It doesn't make them right, just brazen, she added. About halfway into the group's one-year contract, the billboard was taken down Tuesday. There had been public pressure brought to bear on the sign company Sunshine Outdoor of Florida of Micanopy and its owner, Jerry Sullivan. The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando made repeated appeals to Sullivan to take down the sign that could lead people unwittingly to what it called a racist and hate-filled Web site.

Sullivan has also used his billboards to attack public officials with whom he's disagreed with in the past.

The owner of a Darien strip club lost only one battle with Camden County officials in the Georgia Supreme Court last week - and the war is continuing.

The court ruled the county acted legally by forcing Jerry Sullivan, the owner of Cafe Risque, to remove a billboard advertising his nude dance club at the site of a small metal warehouse just off Interstate 95, about seven miles north of the Florida state line.

But a new advertisement promoting the nude dance club already has been erected on the billboard at the same site - and county officials have no plans to force the owner to remove the sign because the land has been re-zoned industrial, making it legal to have a sign.

That has not stopped Mr. Sullivan from filing two other lawsuits against the county.

A lawsuit challenging a political sign erected days before the November elections has been filed against the county, said Gary Edinger, a Florida attorney representing Mr. Sullivan.

Though the courts upheld the county's sign ordinance saying the sign advertising the dance club was illegal, Mr. Edinger said the law did not apply to a political sign Mr. Sullivan erected on billboard. The sign described county officials as "clowns" and "incompetent."

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Sullivan erected the sign to call attention to "unfair and selective enforcement" of the county's sign ordinance and to call attention to "unfair and illegal conduct by elected officials."

The sign was taken down after county officials threatened to fine Mr. Sullivan $1,000 a day for violating the local sign ordinance.

The second lawsuit challenges the county's adult entertainment ordinance, which Mr. Sullivan's lawyer says creates "unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of expression."

(via Lexis Nexis, so no link. Sorry.)

I'm tempted to admire the sheer cheek of using a billboard to twist a public official's nose. As a parent, though, I'd prefer advertisements for titty bars and thier ilk to be relegated to the backs of phone books and the interiors of adult bookstores, where the likelihood of the kids noticing them and demanding explanations is low indeed--and it would seem that Sec. Trippett will eventually his case, assuming that NC state law on the matter is similar to Georgia's.

As for the Nazi stuff, I'd guess that Mr. Sullivan is either sympathetic to the cause or dumb as a stump. Who in this day and age would think that they could rent a billboard to a racist group without suffering some backlash? There is the attached publicity, but it's not the kind most advertisers would desire--certainly not for a measly $300 a month account.

On the other hand, a cursory search doesn't turn up any evidence of ties between the National Alliance and Jerry Sullivan other than the billboard. Decide for yourself, I suppose.

Random Factoid That Didn't Really Fit In With The Rest Of The Post: You can see a list of all the Florida billboards owned by Jerry Sullivan's company here. Sadly, the db only stores location and identification information, not content.

Posted by Bigwig at July 2, 2004 10:30 AM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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