'Save Tarpon' signs are declared legal
By KATHERINE GAZELLA
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2001
TARPON SPRINGS -- The city clerk said Thursday that mayoral candidate Costa Vatikiotis' "Save Tarpon Springs" signs are lawful, although the city attorney said he disagreed with that conclusion.
Based on an opinion from the state supervisor of elections office, City Clerk Kathy Alesafis said Vatikiotis' signs can stay up. Many of the signs have no legible attribution, although Vatikiotis said he used a marker to write on the signs that they are political advertisements paid for by his campaign.
Police Chief Mark LeCouris said he would go along with Alesafis' decision.
Florida statutes define political advertisements as something in support or opposition of a candidate, elected official or issue. Alesafis said a state election official decided the signs do not fall into those categories, and therefore do not need attribution.
"I hope this resolves the matter," Vatikiotis said.
City Attorney John Hubbard said he would abide by Alesafis' decision, but he stood by his initial reaction to the signs. He said they are campaign signs, and therefore need to state legibly whose campaign paid for them.
"If it was me giving an opinion, I would have told them it was a campaign sign," Hubbard said. "I don't think there's anyone in Tarpon Springs who doesn't think it's a campaign sign."
He referred to Florida statute 106.143, which states: "Any political advertisement and any campaign literature published, displayed, or circulated prior to, or on the day of, any election shall . . . identify the persons or organizations sponsoring the advertisement."
Many of the signs throughout town have a smudgy black line at the bottom. Vatikiotis said he used a marker to write that his campaign paid for the signs, but he said the information must have washed away in the rain.
Hubbard's opinion is that the writing must be on the signs, and it must be legible.
"It can't wash away," Hubbard said.
Vatikiotis also uses the "Save Tarpon Springs" slogan on a mailer that went to residents this week. The mailers state that his opponent, Mayor Frank DiDonato, has spent nearly $100,000 for a downtown development plan and has "invited gambling boats into the sponge docks and cellular towers and voyeur dorms into residential neighborhoods."
DiDonato said much of the information in the mailer is incorrect. DiDonato has not voted on or publicly expressed his views on proposed gambling boats and a proposed cellular tower. He has condemned the existence of a voyeur Web site that operates out of a Tarpon Springs home.
Records show that the city spent $62,000 for a consultant to develop the downtown plan. Vatikiotis said Thursday that the estimate on his postcard included the cost of printing and mailing notices about the plan, as well as other expenses that he said were not included in the original $62,000.
- Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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