High court shuts mayor's mouth on billboards 

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood hates billboards and hasn't held back his repulsion, especially when it comes to penning dissuasive letters to those who advertise on the big signs.

On July 11,the state Supreme Court ruled Wood had no right to write the letters. The 4-3 decision ends the fracas between Wood and billboard company Eller Media, whose owners claim Wood interfered with their business.

Wood allegedly threatened one local advertiser, writing that he would rethink the city's contract with the company unless it gave up its billboard.

"What I said was I might want to rebid that job," Wood claims. "I think a threat is when you say, 'I'm going to shoot you.'"

He says the court's ruling shows a "lack of understanding of what freedom of expression is all about."

Justice Carol W. Hunstein, writing for the majority, didn't buy the free speech thing: "There is no constitutional protection for the Mayor's acts ... or for his use of explicit and implicit threats."

The three dissenting justices were more forgiving, citing "a constitutional right to express ... views to advertisers."

Wood says he won't put down the pen. "There are plenty of other things I can write letters about," he says. "They can only quiet me about billboards."


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