Tempe messy yard cops steal $4,000 for trivial violations!
Tempe car-wash owner pays fines for illegal signs
by Dianna M. Náñez - Mar. 1, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
The Tempe car-wash owner who defied the city by flying red, white and blue banners over the Presidents Day weekend has accepted responsibility for four civil zoning violations, none of them related to the banners.
The city, which initially said that the banners were illegal, acknowledged Friday that they were flown legally under the municipal code regulating holiday decorations.
Car-wash owner Brian Epstein took the banners down after Presidents Day. On Wednesday, as part of a plea agreement arranged in late January, Tempe officials dismissed 24 criminal zoning violations that had been pending against him before the disagreement over the banners. Most of the violations were for illegal signage.
Under the agreement, he paid $4,000 in fines, including $1,000 for a windsail banner he posted last year that advertised his car wash.
Epstein, owner of Hog Wash Express, said he wanted to express his patriotism by flying the banners and the city threatened to cite him for doing so.
Tempe officials had responded that the city allows businesses to fly American flags but that the banners violated municipal code regardless of what color they were.
But Jeff Tamulevich, Tempe's code-compliance administrator, said in an e-mail to The Arizona Republic on Friday that Tempe does allow windsail banners for holidays. The star-spangled banners Epstein posted for Presidents Day were legal under the city's holiday-decorations code, he wrote. He noted that Tempe cited Epstein for the banners and signs he posted last year, not the ones he posted for Presidents Day.
Epstein said Tamulevich's statement contradicts an e-mail his lawyer received from Tempe attorney Andrew Davidson, stating that Epstein had to remove the red, white and blue banners because they were illegal. Davidson confirmed Friday that the e-mails were his.
Epstein acknowledged in an interview last month that he had an ongoing dispute over signs with Tempe and that he had removed some of them as part of the plea agreement. But he said that he drew the line when Tempe demanded he remove the patriotic signs.
"I didn't want a fight with Tempe . . . so I took the signs down the day after Presidents Day," he said.
He agreed to pay the maximum fine, $1,000, for each of the four civil violations.
He said, however, he was shocked when Tempe sent out a press release about the agreement late last week that mentioned the original 24 criminal allegations, even though they had been dismissed.
Nikki Ripley, a Tempe spokeswoman, said that Tempe does not usually single out one business' fines out of the many citations the city's Code Compliance Department issues.
"We wouldn't normally put out a press release about settling criminal and civil charges at a business out of respect for the business owner," she said. "(But) we want to correct some misconceptions that were out there about this case and namely that it was something about patriotism or the display of the American flag, because Tempe actually encourages businesses to fly the flag 365 days of the year if they choose."
Tamulevich said Tempe has the discretion to charge municipal-code violations as civil or criminal.
The minimum fine for each of Epstein's violations is $100. Epstein was charged the maximum, $1,000 for each, because he ignored citations, Tamulevich stated. Epstein disagreed, saying he did not ignore the citations.