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Date of Issue: January 07, 2009

Alonso: Citation violates free speech

Mark Alonso of Anna Maria

Mark Alonso of Anna Maria may have lost his November bid for a city commission seat, but he’s become something of a Tampa Bay celebrity the past few weeks over his refusal to remove some signs from his bicycles.

Alonso’s story has been featured on the Bay News 9 television network and other bay-area media outlets have requested interviews, he said.

Alonso’s celebrity status began in mid-December when he received a notice from Anna Maria code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon advising him that the advertising signs on his bicycle violate Sec. 98-5 of the city code. Rathvon asked Alonso to remove the offending signs, but Alonso declined.

The signs advertise Rudy’s Sub Shop and An Island Place real estate office, but Alonso, 82, said he receives no payment for the signs and he’s only displaying them to help his friends.

“It’s a free-speech issue for me. I’m not going to remove the signs unless the owners ask me to take them down.

“She [Rathvon] came by [Dec. 30] and asked me to take off the signs. I said ‘no.’ I told her I’d already thought about it and the answer is still ‘no.’”

Alonso said he told Rathvon, “Do what you have to do, but, in my opinion, I’m not doing anything wrong. If I am wrong, I’ll pay the price.”

Alonso said that in addition to the free speech issue, he has a right under the U.S. Constitution to face his accusers.

The city’s policy of allowing anonymous complaints to go forward to the code enforcement officer for investigation by the city is not due process, which also is in the Constitution, he said.

“I would like to have my day in court and face my accusers. We have this silly rule that you can complain anonymously all day long. I want to see that changed,” he said.

Rathvon said the complaint was made anonymously and she is required by the city commission to review all complaints, including those made without a signature.

Alonso said he has no plans to hire a lawyer if his case reaches the code enforcement board.

“It’s too expensive anyway. I will defend myself,” he said.

According to city commission policy, the code enforcement officer only investigates when a complaint is received, a policy the commission terms “reactive,” not “proactive.”

Alonso is known in Anna Maria as an eclectic artist who creates collectibles and gifts from discarded and found items, including coconuts and driftwood.

Efforts to reach Mayor Fran Barford for comment were unsuccessful.