Florissant and tax service square off over advertisement tactics

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FLORISSANT, MO (KPLR) - There is a flap over flags in Florissant, and the dispute appears likely to land in front of a judge.  At issue is a display of several American flags lined up in front of the Liberty Tax Service location on North Lindbergh.  City officials say they have to go, but not because they’re flags.

The flags are one of a number of patriotic, “Look at Me,” advertising strategies used by Liberty Tax.  They’re the ones who have men dressed as the Statue of Liberty waving in front of their stores.

“We are advertising but within the laws of what typically cities will allow.  We don’t have any kind of signage on the flags,” owner Bruce Thompson says.

So they were a little surprised when an inspector from the city of Florissant showed up and told them either they would have to take the flags down, or he would do it for them.

“He said, but I’m gonna come back and take them down,” store manager Gary Dixon said.

Dixon took them down himself rather than have the flags confiscated, but Thompson returned and put them back out on the street, insisting they’re on his property and that he’s in the right.

“They already have very limiting rules on how we can advertise outside, and to take away the U.S. flag, I think they’re crossing the line here,” he said.

But city officials say the only line being crossed is the property line.  They say the flags are about 2 ½ feet into the public right of way for North Lindbergh, and any kind of signage, even a flag, is forbidden.  The inspector even checked the maps on file.

“He looked at the property.  He reviewed the property line with our city engineer and thought that there were items in the right of way.  If the owner wanted those things on his property that’s fine, but don’t put them in the street,” city Building Commissioner Philip Lum said.

The mayor says the rules are the rules.  He points out that a lot of money has been spent to make Lindbergh look a little less cluttered, and more uniform.  There is landscaping, decorative street lights, and not tolerance for anything else.

Florissant Mayor Thomas Schneider says, “It’s a display of American flags on a right of way, put up without permission where it stands out like a sore thumb and detracts from the investment we’ve put into enhancing that right of way.”

It leaves Florissant with a star-spangled standoff.  Thompson says he will not take down his flags, and the city insists he’ll be cited if he doesn’t.

“It will go to court if they give me a ticket.  Guaranteed,” Thompson told us.

He’s likely not bluffing.  Some communities have passed ordinances trying to ban his waving “Statues of Liberty” on the side of the road.  He says he’s going to court in Ferguson over that one in April.

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