ST. PETERSBURG — In a battle against government, David McKalip is claiming the city of St. Petersburg is violating his rights by allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to change the messages on its massive electronic billboard on Interstate 275 more quickly than he can on the much smaller sign outside his spine-care business.
On Thursday, the neurological surgeon got his day in court.
Technically, McKalip, who was defeated in a race for the city council, wants County Judge Patrick Caddell to dismiss the $143 fine he received Aug. 23 for changing the messages on his electronic billboard outside his business, Start to Finish Spine Care, 431 Southwest Blvd. N., too quickly.
According to the city’s electronic messaging center ordinance, McKalip must keep the same electronic message on his billboard for at least 60 seconds before a new one appears. The Rays, in contrast, may change their messages as quickly as every 10 seconds.
By having different time restrictions, called dwell times, the city is violating McKalip’s First Amendment rights, his attorney, George Rahdert, said.
“There are two standards,” Rahdert said. “We’re saying the city has different regulations depending on who the speaker is.
“The rules for Tropicana Field are a lot more generous than they are for John Q. Citizen. That’s where the city favors one speaker over another,” he said.
It illustrates the city is making judgments about the content on the electronic billboards, which is unconstitutional, Rahdert said.
Assistant City Attorney Lynn Gordon, who represented the city at a hearing Thursday, said the issue has nothing to do with what is said on the signs. Rather, she said, the issues is motorist safety, or the extent to which a driver will be distracted when looking at electronic billboards.
The city decided allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to change their sign every 10 seconds would not endanger motorists on the elevated, northbound lanes of I-275.
McKalip’s business is in a more congested and residential area, she said.
“The city’s position is based on the changeable nature of the traffic conditions,” Gordon said.
With the 60-second restriction, McKalip said, he can’t scroll any messages, which he was doing in August.
He has a problem in that the city allows people to hold signs on the side of the road, while he can’t have a scrolling message board.
When he got the fine, McKalip was scrolling the freedom of speech provision of the Florida constitution.
“If I hired a human to hold a sign they could jump up and down and dance, but I can’t have a scrolling message board,” McKalip said. “It’s not right to exempt a human sign spinner.”
Caddell gave the attorneys 10 days to file supplemental information, after which he will make a decision.