St. Petersburg considers banning human signs

Waving and gyrating by streets would be outlawed

ST. PETERSBURG - Shawn Stetzler has his daily routine down pat.  He walks to the corner of Roosevelt Blvd. and Gandy Blvd. North in St. Petersburg, hooks up his headphones, and treks across the street to a sidewalk in the median.  That's where the grooving starts.

With a five-foot-wide billboard for Firehouse Subs, Stetzler jams back and forth to his favorite tunes.  Wearing sunglasses, shorts, and the required red shirt, his sign reads 'Let's Eat!'  For Stetzler, it's more like 'Let's Dance.'

"Music is my passion," Stetzler said.  "The dancing and the moving around is what catches the eye of drivers," he said.

Stetzler is a human billboard, also known as a sign spinner.  His days doing that job may be numbered if a new ordinance gets approval from St. Petersburg city council.  

The proposed law would limit where human signs can advertise, and how they behave.  

"Human signs shall not spin, twirl, swing, gyrate, or move in any other type of exaggerated fashion to distract drivers," the ordinance stated.

For Stetzler, that would virtually wipe out his whole act.  

"If we weren't dancing we might as well just have a billboard out here," said the sign spinner.  "There's no point in somebody holding the sign when we could just have some stakes in the ground holding the billboard, you know?"

The city contends that it's a safety issue, and that removing human signs would limit potentially dangerous distractions for drivers.  

"They've never produced any evidence that any sign spinner has ever caused a car accident," said David McKalip, a local brain surgeon and community activist.  "But they will hurt those poor people who need jobs," McKalip said.

Opponents also believe the ordinance is a violation of free speech rights.  

Public comment on the ordinance is expected at Friday's city council meeting, and McKalip plans to speak his mind about the proposal.

"People need jobs in this down economy," he said.

"There are students.  There are single moms.  There are homeless people.  There are people with low skills.  They need those jobs."

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