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2013-12-05

AG sez, 'Give Anderson requested info!' Latest chapter of sign flap unfolding now

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Rick Anderson recently received an early Christmas present from the Office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
In a Friday, Nov. 22, letter to Austin's Akers Law Firm, Assistant Attorney General James L. Coggeshall, who serves in the Open Records Division, informed municipal attorney Zachariah T. Evans that the City of Bandera must comply with Anderson's earlier Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
On Sept. 18, Anderson sent a request to the city asking for "a copy-list of all sign violations delivered on [September 17, 2013] and the name of the person-business who filed the complaint."
Anderson's request came in response to City Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Victor Strickland giving him a notice of violation on Sept. 17. According to Strickland, Anderson's triangular-shaped chalkboard sign was not secured and had been placed in a Texas Department of Transportation right-of-way.
After Strickland's visit, Anderson anchored the sign more securely. He also contends it is not in the ROW or TxDOT personnel would have interceded in the matter.
Despite the corrections, on Oct. 17, Deputy Marshal Will Dietrick issued Anderson two citations for violating City Ordinance 3.05.103, relating to prohibited signs, and City Ordinance 3.05.104, regarding portable signs.
The day after receiving his notice of violation, Anderson made his FOIA request for a copy or list of all sign violations that were delivered on Sept. 17, as well as the names of persons or businesses who filed the complains. In response, Municipal Attorney Monte Akers requested an opinion from the Office of the Texas Attorney General to determine if that information could be released.
In his letter to the AG, dated Sept. 25, Akers wrote: "The information requested relates to ongoing investigations that did not result in convictions or sentences of deferred adjudication. The City seeks to withhold information responsive to the request based on Texas Government Code section 552.108."
In response, Coggeshall wrote: "[Evans] assert(s) some of the submitted information pertains to code violations that are currently being investigated by the city code enforcement office, and other information pertains to investigations that concluded in results other than conviction or deferred adjudication. However, you have not identified which of the submitted information pertains to the ongoing criminal cases and which pertains to the closed investigations.
"Therefore the city may not withhold the submitted information ... (and) accordingly the city must release the submitted information to the requestor."
Anderson is pursuing the matter because he feels his business has been singled out for some reason. "I don't know who the evil person in the dark is who's causing me all this trouble," Anderson said, adding, "But I aim to find out."
Municipal Judge Dawn Wright will preside at Anderson's pre-trial hearing at 9 am, Friday, Dec. 13, in the second floor courtroom of the Bandera County Courthouse.
However, Anderson is not the only City of Bandera business owner to run afoul of the city sign ordinance. Strickland also gave Hy Rabon, owner of the newly re-opened The Olde Forge Bakery, Deli & Grill, a notice that he, too, had violated of the sign ordinance. Rabon spoke to Bandera City Council during the Thursday, Nov. 14. At that time, Rabon repeatedly asked for someone to clarify the city's sign ordinance for him.
"I can't understand it," he said. "I've been told my sign is illegal and I can't find (the reason) anywhere in the ordinance."
As Rabon later explained to the Courier, he had placed a triangular sign in the back of his pickup truck and parked it on his property. "It's a temporary sign in a motorized vehicle and, as I understand the ordinance, that's legal," Rabon said. He changes wordage on the sign daily to advertise lunch specials, college and NFL football games and to show his support for the local high school football team.
However, after the words "Lunch Special" appeared on the sign located in the back of his truck parked on his property during the week of November 25, a citation was issued for Rabon. "(Deputy Dietrick) came all the way out to my house in the county to deliver it to me," Rabon said. "I wasn't there and he wouldn't give the citation to Leslie." Apparently, at some point, city officials recommended that Rabon request a variance for the sign. The last request for a variance for a sign tied loosely to a proposed hotel project on Main Street was denied.
For his take on the latest sign flap, read Rabon's letter to the editor published Opinion Section.