June 11, 2009

Suit: Balloon rule enforcement arbitrary

A Houston business owner said in his lawsuit against the city that his rights were violated by the arbitrary enforcement of city sign codes.

Jim Purtee, owner of Houston Balloons & Promotions, argues in his suit that the city has been arbitrary in its enforcement of a 1993 ordinance that limited the days giant novelty balloons such as the ones he sells at his shop -- like gorillas, Santa Claus and other shapes -- could be displayed and banned the objects from bearing business-specific messages, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

Purtee claims a disproportionate number of his customers have been targeted by the ordinance, which the city stopped enforcing when he filed his lawsuit in 2006.

It cost us a lot of money and it wasn't incidental, he said.

Susan Luycx, the city's sign administrator, admitted Wednesday to U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore that balloon rule enforcement had been arbitrary. She said inspectors only enforced the ordinance when there was a specific complaint involved due to the lack of a budget for full enforcement.

Purtee, who said the ordinance hurt his business during the time it was being enforced, is seeking damages of $938,241.