Lamar Advertising Joins in N.C. Ruckus Over Digital Billboards

Last Updated Jul 30, 2009 1:27 PM EDT

Lamar Advertising has found another small town to bash with its First Amendment stick: Havelock, N.C. (pop. 22,442).

Officials there tried to change their regulations in order to prevent Times Square-style electronic billboards taking over their town. They didn't reckon on Lamar Advertising general manager Mark Odell showing up to tell them about the law.

BNET readers are already familiar with Lamar Advertising's belief that no American laws except for the First Amendment's free speech provision govern its business. Odell was quoted by the Havelock News as saying that the new regs -- which were supposed to come online June 22 -- were unconstitutional:

"This conflicts with the First Amendment - freedom of speech," Odell said.
The meeting was a feisty one. Here are the opening remarks of Judge Peter Mack, whom the chamber of commerce asked to keep order:
Listen. Listen. We're not going to argue ... Listen to me first. Listen to me. Hold on. I hate to treat this like a courtroom, but this is not an argument session. It's a useful discussion. ... Maybe if we can have some reasonable discussion we can modify the ordinance in a way that it halfway accommodates everybody.
The proposed rules were not to the liking of Odell:
"You guys are going to have to go back to the drawing board," Odell said.
Given Lamar's successful history of bending municipalities to its will, one suspects they will. In Albany, N.Y.: Lamar recently pulled the same "unconstitutional" trick; the city is negotiating with the company.

In Los Angeles: Lamar is offering to take down 3,500 old signs that have declined in value due to traffic patterns in return for the right to erect 500 new billboards at other locations â€" 50 of them digital.

In Salem, Ore.: Lamar persuaded a judge that four electronic billboards were OK.