Political speech is free; stifling it is costly

March 3, 2014 

You knew Belleville's leaders were asking for trouble when they decided to silence a resident's political speech -- $30,000 worth of trouble, it turns out.

You may remember the story. Dianne Rogge was upset that the city didn't approve her request for $15,000 in TIF funds to renovate the former Pour Haus tavern. And so she put up a sign in her window: "No TIF for us, Tks B'ville."

The city could have looked the other way and let this blow over. No harm, no foul. But no, city leaders had to fight back. The very next day, city inspectors notified Rogge that if she didn't get a permit for the sign, she could be fined $500 a day. Mayor Mark Eckert concurred.

Big mistake. Rogge hired an attorney, filed a federal lawsuit, and the city now is settling out of court for $30,000, which is double the amount she asked for in TIF funds -- and 100 percent more than it would have cost they city to ignore the sign.

The Pour Haus remains empty. No revenue, just a bill.

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