BELOIT—The City of Beloit and Beloit College have responded to criticism over the placement of two ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners affixed to the pedestrian bridge leading to college’s Powerhouse building.
In email correspondence obtained by the Beloit Daily News, Planning and Building Services Director Drew Pennington responded to a complaint from Mike Zoril of Beloit, on Oct. 1 saying the signs were approved under the city’s sign ordinance.
Zoril took up multiple issues with the signs, claiming they were political in nature and not off-premises or special event/temporary signs. Zoril also stated the signs exceed the size limits imposed by the city and exceed the number of signs allowed as part of the college’s request. Zoril added that the signs were approved for “an illegal time period” of 141 days between July 12 and Nov. 30.
Beloit College Marketing and Communications Representative Whitney Helm said the college received “new legal advice,” with the city now asking the college to relocate the signs.
“The College asked for and was granted permission by appropriate city officials to put up the banners on our new bridge,” Helm said. “Having received new legal advice, the city has asked us to take them down from that location. We will comply and will move them to another location on campus.”
Zoril raised these issues at the Oct. 5 Beloit City Council meeting, saying Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther should be removed as city manager for violating the sign ordinance.
Luther acknowledged that the city’s sign ordinance was “undeniably antiquated and needs to be updated.”
“If I exceeded my authority, I take full responsibility for any issues of non-compliance,” Luther said. “However, last summer, temporary banner signs were posted on Beloit College’s pedestrian walkway for the CCI Construction Camp for about two months and no complaints were received. This leads me to believe that current complaints are really about content.”
Beloit College Chief of Staff Daniel Schooff requested Luther approve the placement of the temporary signs in July through Nov. 30 on the bridge. The signs subsequently were approved by Luther on July 12.
Beloit City Council President Regina Dunkin said the city’s sign ordinance is now under review by city staff, and had been in contact with Zoril on Wednesday.
Zoril said that he perceived the issue involving the campus signs as being political in nature, with the city contending the signs were not political in nature and did not endorse a specific candidate or political party.
“This is an issue about fairness, equality, and traffic safety,” Zoril said. “Everybody has a right to express their own opinions, but we can’t have two sets of laws—one set of laws for the city manager and her political friends and then an entirely different set of laws for everybody else.”
As of Wednesday, two complaints had been received by the city regarding the signs by Zoril and 45th Assembly District Republican candidate Tawny Gustina, Luther said. To-date, no notices of violations regarding political signs have been recorded by the city, said Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard.
This is not Zoril’s first fracas involving the city, he resigned as chairman of the Beloit Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2016 after he posted a racially-charged comment on a WKOW 27 article regarding then-presidential candidate Donald Trump polling at 0% among Black voters in Wisconsin, saying that “Black voters are some of the stupidest people around.”
At the time, Zoril issued the following statement to the Beloit Daily News, “The indisputable fact is that Black voters, Democrats, and Clinton supporters are pretty much synonymous. The WKOW article was about Black voters. My response was careless. What I meant was that in my opinion, Clinton supporters are not making a smart choice for our country. I have served admirably on the EOC for over three years where I have been elected chairman twice by my peers. Furthermore, on a commission that struggles reaching quorum, I have a 100 percent attendance record. I do not want the good work of the members of this commission to be questioned, so I have resigned effective immediately and I sincerely apologize to anybody I offended.”
Following the incident, the city and Beloit NAACP chapter came out strongly against the racially insensitive comments.