Ryan Weyandt had until this past Thursday to remove a colorful “Black Lives Matter” mural that runs along a wooden fence at his West St. Paul home — or else be fined by the city.
But Weyandt was given another pass last week by West St. Paul elected officials, who decided to hold off on fining him for the time being despite the mural being in violation of two city ordinances relating to fences and signs.
That decision prompted a former mayor to paint his fence with a message. On Friday, Dave Meisinger put the pro-police slogan “Blue Lives Matter” in blue and white paint on a wooden fence at his home.
“I’m trying to make a point that if you’re going to allow one, then you need to allow everything,” Meisinger said Monday.
The city’s order to Weyandt to paint over the mural or remove the fence at his home at the corner of Butler and Smith avenues caught the attention this month of out-of-town media, including reporting by the New York Times and the Guardian, which are in the Twin Cities to cover the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
Three days before Weyandt’s deadline, council members at a work session meeting took a position to stay any fines until they have had time to take another look at city code, gather input from residents and consider changes. Weyandt could not be reached for comment Monday.
City code prohibits fences from being more than one color or having words or pictures. Signs cannot be more than 6 square feet or attached to fences, except during a short time before and after election season. Content is not taken into consideration with either ordinance, according to the city.
Weyandt’s mural was put on the city’s radar in late September, when code enforcement received its first of several complaints about the non-compliant fence, according to city spokesperson Dan Nowicki.
In November, the city sent Weyandt a warning letter, Nowicki said Monday, and then gave him an April 15 deadline after considering that weather would be a challenge for him to paint over the mural.
Weyandt asked code enforcement for another extension on April 7, Nowicki said, but the request was denied “because the weather did permit already quite a few times to get the work done.”
Under city code, a first citation is $200. It then doubles every 10 days, capping out at $2,000 for every 10 additional days with no maximum, Nowicki said.
Staying fines for Weyandt was introduced by Council Member John Justen at the start of the April 12 work session meeting. Considering that residents want to weigh in on the issue and Weyandt’s deadline looming, he said, the council should back off for now.
Because it was a work session, council members could not take comments from residents or hold a formal vote on whether to stay fining Weyandt. The council was also under a time crunch to finish the meeting before a state-issued 7 p.m. curfew put in place following the death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.
But during the 20-minute discussion, four council members said they agreed with Justen in putting off the penalties and the idea moved ahead — however, not without a contentious debate. Council Member Dick Vitelli and Mayor Dave Napier said they were opposed to the idea, both arguing the city should stick to their word.
“I encourage us to … not open up this can of worms by delaying the fine,” Napier said.
Vitelli’s opposition was much harsher.
“The hypocrisy at this table is making me puke,” Vitelli said.
Earlier in the meeting, he noted how the council had discussed city code late last year after a homeowner put up anti-abortion signs outside his home. The city sent warning letters, and the homeowner removed the signs in January.
The fence ordinance was put in place for uniformity, Vitelli said.
“It is enforced regardless of the words displayed and should not be misunderstood as a city’s way of silencing those who support worthy causes,” he said.
FORMER MAYOR RESPONDS
Meisinger, who was a council member before being elected mayor twice, the most recent being in 2004, said Monday that he is a “big supporter” of law enforcement and that over the past year he has had “Blue Lives Matter” signs stolen from the yard of his home at Ottawa and Moreland avenues.
“I grew up with a lot of these people in the West St. Paul Police Department, he said, “and so I’m just showing my support for them in these troubled times. All the police have been thrown into one big bucket and that’s not the way it should be.”
Meisinger said he’s looking for “equal protection like the Constitution says, and I expect to be treated the same as the people on Smith Avenue are treated. And we’ll see what the city does from here on out.”
Nowicki, the city spokesperson, said the city received complaints about Meisinger’s fence over the weekend and that it also is on code enforcement’s radar.
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