Clermont man wins fight over signs criticizing leaders



CLERMONT, Fla. - A federal judge has ruled against the city of Clermont in a case that's been going on for years.

It all started when a local auto shop owner put up signs to protest a city decision about his property.

Channel 9’s Ryan Hughes talked to the business owner, who will not be forced to take down his signs.

“It's a good thing to have the privilege of freedom of speech. At least you're able to express your point of view,” said Wayne Weatherbee, owner of Bee’s Auto.

Weatherbee has worked on cars since at his family-owned auto shop since he was a teenager.

But in the past half-decade, his work has shifted to something different: taking on city hall.

“It embarrassed them. I don't know what to say about that. I know they don't like them,” he said.

Weatherbee put up a row of signs that included pointed messages to city leaders. 

When he bought another shop across the street, he said the city refused to give him an occupational license so he could expand unless he made expensive upgrades.

Clermont leaders also wanted the property for parking.

City leaders tried to force Weatherbee to take down his signs, claiming they violated sign codes, but a federal judge called part of the code unconstitutional.

“I never expected it to go the lengths it has. It's a shame it had to go this far,” Weatherbee said.

“It sends the message that people still have the First Amendment right to express themselves,” Weatherbee’s attorney, Larry Walters, said.

Walters, who specializes in First Amendment issues, said he saw this as a case where city government overstepped its boundaries.

“That's what we call censorship in the United States,” he said. ”Fortunately the court recognized that's what's going on here and put an end to it.”