City Commission Overhauls Event Banner Policy

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Winter Park commissioners, during their March 22 meeting, approved changes to the Special Event Banner Policy that will set limits on messaging and participating organizations.

The banner program began in 2010 as a means of promoting city functions and nonprofit events, but later accepted applications from a broadening range of organizations. Among them was the Winter Park PRIDE Project, whose banners were displayed in June of 2021 and 2022 in observation of Pride Month. City Commission recently discussed a return to the program’s original criteria to avoid the possibility of contentious subject matter.

“We tried to open it up for other opportunities for people to use banners, and it started crossing into the realm of what might be considered political or controversial,” said City Manager Randy Knight at the March 8 commission meeting before a revised banner policy was presented for discussion.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan felt its language left city staff with too much responsibility in deciding what type of banners are acceptable. He also opposed the acceptance of any banner that could be interpreted as a political statement.

“In my opinion, I don’t believe that we, the city, should attempt to influence political positions,” he said. “Banner requests that advocate a political position should be denied.”

Commissioners also referenced a 2022 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of Boston violated the First Amendment by denying an application to raise a Christian flag during a community program. The court recognized Boston’s event and the flag pole as public forum, citing other banners that had been permitted.

Bonnie Jackson, a Winter Park resident and former Republican candidate for Florida House District 42, has stated the policy change is in response to her application for a banner design that featured a stick figure family with the text “choose life” and “celebrate family.”

The application, submitted in June of 2022 on behalf of Winter Park Republican Women Federated, went unanswered for several months, prompting Jackson to press commissioners for a response during recent city meetings. She joined other residents at the March 8 meeting in pointing out the inconsistencies in the city’s approval of the pride banners but not the pro-family design.

“I’m sad that you’re having to go through this discernment process regarding what to do about your banner program,” said Winter Park PRIDE Project founder Thor Falk during the March 8 meeting. “The presence of our banners has resulted in a discernment process that is going to hurt all of the city, in my point of view.”

A second version of the revised banner policy was brought before City Commission at the March 22 meeting. It states the program will use city banner poles, “for decorative purposes and for promoting official city events, and events otherwise approved of or sponsored by the city.” It also states that the program, “is not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public, but is intended to beautify and build awareness for city messages, events sponsored or promoted by the city, and arts and education within the city.”

Jackson was present for the meeting and spoke during public comments, after commissioners unanimously voted to pass the revised policy.

“I don’t think we should have expression on our city-paid-for banners, I think it should be city events,” she said. “That’s what the original policy was supposed to be, but since you decided to broadly interpret that, I came along to expose your hypocrisy. You should be flying this banner if you believe in the reason why you flew the Winter Park PRIDE Project banner. But you’re not doing that and I think it’s shameful.”

Under the new policy, nonprofits with a physical presence in the city can apply to post approved banners on city-owned poles that front their property. The policy does not pertain to commercial and residential property owners wishing to use banner poles on their property.

The full list of organizations approved for the banner program, along with the complete policy are available here.

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