Sign squabble leads to citation, tow
An interesting battle is playing out right now between the City of Hastings and Rich Jacobson, who operates Jake's Discounts Liquors on Vermillion Street.
The city says Jacobson has run afoul of the sign ordinance.
Jacobson says he's being unfairly targeted and is threatening litigation against the city.
The matter escalated on Tuesday morning when the red truck that Jacobson had a sign in the back of was towed from his business. Jacobson was cited in the case for the violation.
The city says Jacobson has violated the city sign ordinance in three ways.
• He has had a banner up at his business for more than 90 days in one calendar year;
• He has had more than one banner up for at least part of the year; and
• He had a portable sign in front of his business that he didn't have a permit for (the truck).
The city's associate planner, Justin Fortney, noticed the violations and sent Jacobson a letter detailing what he was doing wrong. At the same time Fortney sent that letter, he said he sent out similar letters to 30 other businesses in Hastings who had similar infractions. Fortney said the other businesses complied, but Jacobson did not.
Eventually, Jacobson was given warning that if he didn't comply, the matter would be turned over to the police department and the city attorney. That's what happened on Aug. 13 when the truck was towed.
Jacobson strongly disagrees with how things were handled.
He said once he got the letter about his banners, he got creative and parked the truck at his business with the big yellow sign in the back of it.
"There's commercial vehicles all over town that have their names on them," he said. "The city's claiming this (truck) was a sign. It's not a sign. It's a truck. It's licensed and completely legal to drive down the road, just as it is."
Once the red truck was towed, Jacobson put a new truck in its place with another big banner on it. He said once he picks up his red truck from the impound lot, it'll be parked right back at his business.
"It's going to go right back where it was," he said. "There's no law against parking a vehicle on private property. I can see if it didn't run, or was for sale. It's not for sale and it runs just fine. They're trying to make a point, so they decided to tow it."
Jacobson doesn't plan to walk away quietly from the matter.
"It's private property -- it's private everything," he said. "I believe there's some freedom of expression there. This is probably a First Amendment case. They're telling me what I can say and cannot say on my own personal property.
"This is probably going to end up costing the city money. It will cost their insurance company, and their premiums will go up when they pay me."
Jacobson said that he believes he is being singled out.
"There's still multiple violations within a block or two of my establishment," he said. "It's selective enforcement. They should leave well enough alone. I'm trying to run a small business here."
Jacobson said he doesn't understand why the city considers the vinyl banners on the side of the truck to be signs.
"The tow truck that came -- it had a vinyl banner on it," he said. "I thought that was kind of funny. I said to the officer, 'Isn't that a violation? Shouldn't you have someone tow him?'
"The cop didn't find that as amusing as I did."
Fortney, though, said the sign ordinance is very clear. The big sign in the back of that truck is a violation of the city's ordinance, he said.
"By definition, it's a portable sign," he said. "It's a sign structure that was built for the purpose of advertising. If you have a vehicle with lettering on it, that's something different. That's something he could do, and that's something other people do."
This isn't the first time Jacobson has drawn the spotlight.
He is the Prescott, Wis., resident who operated Jake's gentleman's club in Coates for a number of years before it was eventually shut down. In protest, he painted the long-vacant building hot pink.
Later, he was implicated in a voter fraud scheme before being cleared of the charges. He was required to pay for the City of Coates' legal fees related to a different case, and ended up doing so with 600,000 pennies he dumped on the table during a council meeting.
He operates Jake's Discount Liquor in Coates, too, and a club in Bock called Fat Jack's Cabaret.