After a complaint from a downtown building owner, Bradford City Council is suspending its program for placing banners over Main Street.
In August, a letter from downtown building owner Greg Ross was read at a city council meeting. He had wanted Hometown Heroes banners hung in front of his building, but was told they couldn’t be. He brought up the long standing practice of hanging banners over Main Street from a building he owned at 79 Main St., saying it was done without his permission.
Banners were typically hung from the building at 79 Main St., where the U.S. Army recruiter is located, to 78 Main St., known as the Forest Oil building, which is owned by Todd Hennard.
In the letter, Ross threatened to remove the “Hate Has No Home Here” banner that was currently hanging over Main Street with bolt cutters if he was denied permission for his Hometown Heroes banner.
City officials looked into the Main Street banner program, and city administrator Chris Lucco found no records of any agreement with the building owners, he explained Tuesday.
“When this concern was raised and subsequently explored, it was determined that there is not and never has been an agreement between the owner(s) of 78 Main Street and 79 Main Street (location of the cable attachments where the banners span Main Street) and the city,” a statement from council read.
“The city believes that it is in all parties’ best interest for such an agreement to be in place to provide for any liability involved with an overhead banner,” the statement continued. “When this initial concern was examined, further concerns arose in the event an agreement would be negotiated with the owners of the building(s).”
The issue of a building owner taking issue with the message on a banner was raised.
“The additional concern was, essentially, whether the city could implement a policy to filter messages that some may find offensive. The city solicitors answered the question very definitively; the city cannot in any way choose to permit or prohibit the hanging of a banner based on its content,” the statement indicated.
“Accordingly, City Council determined it was best to suspend the practice indefinitely due to the lack of an agreement and the prohibition of censoring banners based on their content.”
Lucco said that so far this year, four banners had been hung. In 2019, there were a total of 11 and in 2018, a total of 16. Some of those had been by the Kids and Cancer group, the Festa Italiana committee, the United Way, the Big 30, the Rock City Gem Show, the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and more.
“There’s never been anything negative” on the banners, Lucco said.
He added that he felt council should put out a statement about the decision to suspend the program so no groups would purchase banners to put up.
When asked if the suspension of the program was in regards only to the buildings at 78 and 79 Main Street, Lucco explained it is instead “regarding the practice of a city-sponsored overhead banner program.
“If two building owners wanted to allow banners to hang off their buildings, they might be allowed to do it,” he said. “The city doesn’t own any property that we can just put a banner up on.”