No fines for "holiday decorations," city says - FOX 13 News

No fines for "holiday decorations," city says

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BARTOW (FOX 13) -

The city of Bartow has found itself amidst a national controversy after a few homeowners received warnings that their 'God Bless America' yard signs need to come down. Now, the city is trying to clarify the message.

"It is clear that some recipients of the notices have interpreted them as an indication that their message of 'God Bless America' is in violation of city code. This interpretation is not the case or the intent of the city. Instead, the issue is and remains the sign type – not the message," City Manager George Long stated in a Friday evening press release.

The small red and white signs have been in place since the July 4th holiday when they were handed out at First Baptist Church of Bartow following an Independence Day sermon. Long explained Friday that they have outlived their welcome as holiday decorations:

"Code enforcement officers regarded these signs displaying the 'God Bless America' message as holiday decorations. After the July Fourth holiday, most were removed. However, three months after the holiday, code enforcement determined that display of these signs had gone well beyond what could be considered 'holiday decorations' relating to the Fourth of July, and that their continued display violated the code."

Thursday, residents told FOX 13 that they had no plans to comply with the city's request.

"This is my yard that I'm paying the taxes on. It's my right," insisted Emmett Purvis.

"Being a veteran, I felt like I was just kicked in the gut," added Marcus Seger.

However, the city says homeowners are mistaken if they believe they face a fine for non-compliance.

"These notices are not citations, and therefore, do not carry any fine or penalty. In fact, Bartow code enforcement officers are not empowered to impose such fines or penalties," Long insisted.

LINK: Read the city's full response (PDF)

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