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City: Thou shalt get a sign permit — Property owner plans to fight ordinance at aldermen meeting Tuesday night

On a street corner in Brookhaven, the laws of God are conflicting with the laws of man.

A large billboard on the southwest corner of the Hwy. 51 and Industrial Park Road intersection listing the Book of Exodus’ Ten Commandments and other urgent calls for Christian repentance in America is at odds with the City of Brookhaven’s sign ordinance, and by law must come down. Local businessman Wayne Wallace, owner of the Market Basket on Brookway Boulevard, erected the sign, and he plans to defy the ordinance until he makes his case before city aldermen Tuesday night.

“I’m not ‘gone roll over and play dead. I have a constitutional right,” he said. “If it’s not in the Constitution, they can’t force me to take that sign down.”

The Constitution does not deal with highway signage. The City of Brookhaven does, however, and its sign ordinance is available online at brookhaven-ms.gov.

The ordinance states, “it shall be unlawful for any person to henceforth erect or relocate any permanent business or outdoor sign structure, without first obtaining a permit, and paying the required permit (fee) per sign structure.” 

City Building Inspector David Fearn reviewed Wallace’s big sign earlier this week and handed down judgment.

“I asked him to take it down,” Fearn said. “I told him what the ordinance says, and that it has to immediately come down.”

Fearn said Wallace did not receive, or even apply for, a permit from the city before erecting the sign. Fearn declined to elaborate further, but Wallace said Fearn told him the sign is also in violation of other provisions of the ordinance concerning construction material and distance from the public right-of-way.

Wallace said he did not know he was required to obtain a permit before he erected a sign — he thought the permits only applied to buildings. He purchased the half-acre strip of land earlier this year and completed the sign just a few days ago.

Either way, he feels his mission is more important than a permit.

“Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, but I’m trying to bring somebody to God. That’s the law we need in this nation,” Wallace said. “This is why we have the school shootings. The Bible is not being taught at home. This is the Home Seekers Paradise — if you don’t believe in the 10 Commandments, you don’t need to be living in Brookhaven, Mississippi.”

Brookhaven Public Works Director Keith Lewis said the tribulation around Wallace’s sign has nothing to do with its righteous content.

“You have to come in and get permits. You can’t just put up a billboard anywhere,” he said. “If you could then the whole boulevard would be nothing but billboards. You’d have stuff all over the right-of-ways. You have to go through the proper channels.”

Lewis said non-permitted construction in the city is a common problem, with fences and signs often being improperly or illegally placed. He said the easiest thing anyone considering construction can do is to speak to Fearn first.

“It’s pretty well black and white, on paper, what you have to do,” he said.