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Trustees address free speech

Boardman officials deal with zoning, promote firefighter

BOARDMAN — Township trustees on Friday discussed a zoning matter involving a “Broke Ass Phone” sign.

Krista Beniston, director of zoning and development, said the sign was put up without a permit. Broke Ass Phone, a smartphone repair business, is located on U.S. Route 224.

“We had residents complain about the language,” she told trustees. “Unfortunately, our legal counsel has advised the sign will have to remain.”

She said the language on the sign falls under freedom of speech and the township can’t do much about it. As for the sign not being permitted, Beniston said she will go after the sign owners to pay a penalty for not getting the permit.

The 7th District Court of Appeals in late November overturned a decision by the Boardman Township Board of Zoning Appeals and a Mahoning County Common Pleas judge that refused to allow the business to use its name on a sign out front.

The decision, written by judges Gene Donofrio and Cheryl Waite, said Broke Ass Phone has a First Amendment right to use its name on its sign. The decision hinged on whether the word “Ass” in the name is “obscene or of immoral character.” The majority on the three-judge appeals panel said it is not.

The appeal was filed by the company after the Boardman Township Board of Zoning Appeals rejected its sign in 2015, and Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court affirmed the decision in 2017.

The ruling says the company’s sign is commercial speech, which is protected under the First Amendment as long as it concerns “lawful activity and is not misleading.”

The township’s zoning regulations prohibit signs, billboards or advertising that “contain words or pictures of obscene, pornographic, immoral character or which contain advertising that is false.”

“In this case, the word ‘ass’ must be viewed in context,” the judges said. It is “not used to describe part of the body and is not in reference to any type of crude or offensive behavior. Instead, the term ‘ass’ when used in a phrase like ‘Broke Ass Phone,’ has become commonly used as a slang term to say that the phone is ‘really’ or ‘badly’ broken.”

In other business, Boardman Township trustees promoted a firefighter.

Firefighter Joel Wharry was promoted to lieutenant and fire prevention officer. The appointment was made after a brief executive session where Wharry was interviewed one last time.

Wharry, a 2010 Springfield graduate, started working for the Boardman Fire Department in 2014. He said the fire service is something he’s accustomed to.

“My dad (Don Wharry) was a volunteer firefighter with the Springfield department,” Wharry said. “He used to take me to the station. I grew up with it.”

Wharry will fill the vacant spot left by Will Ferrando, after he was promoted to captain in September.

In another matter, trustees agreed to adopt a resolution declaring 1847 Lynn Mar Ave. as a nuisance so the property owners can be ordered to clean up rubbish and debris.

news@tribtoday.com

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