AUGUSTA — City councilors want to update local ordinances to make sure offensive words, pictures and symbols can’t be painted on publicly-viewable but privately-owned buildings, including hateful language or symbols such as swastikas, pornography or images of violence.

The issue was initially prompted by a building owner’s concerns about the city’s lack of regulation of murals on the walls of buildings in local historic districts.

Following a lengthy conversation touching on First Amendment free speech issues and hate crimes, councilors and city attorney Stephen Langsdorf expressed concern that current city rules may not specifically ban things they said most people would agree are offensive and shouldn’t be displayed in public.

“It’s absolutely a compelling governmental interest to regulate, I’m just not convinced our ordinance, as it exists right now, addresses any of that,” Langsdorf said at the Aug. 10 discussion after At-Large Councilor Stephanie Sienkiewicz asked about regulating offensive images on privately-owned buildings viewable from public spaces. “I’m comfortable that there are certain standards like that, that absolutely could be set in terms of you’re not regulating what people do but there are certain types of imagery and so forth that is outside the scope of what should be allowed. Just because you allow certain colors doesn’t mean you could put up anything you want, okay. But, again, (regulation would have to stay) within certain parameters. Like no hate language, no pornographic images.”

The discussion took place two days before a group of about two dozen neo-Nazis demonstrated in Augusta on the steps of the State House and outside the Blaine House, doing a Nazi salute and chanting “Sieg Heil!” several times, witnesses said, and carrying a banner that said “Keep New England White.”

Officers monitored the group of 25 to 30 people but did not make contact with them because they did not observe criminal activity, police said. Their demonstration lasted about an hour.


A recent investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram revealed that white nationalist groups are increasing their presence in Maine.

Lance Tapley, 78, was driving through Memorial Circle on Saturday afternoon when he spotted the group, clad in black shirts and masks that concealed their faces. He said a man who he took to be their leader identified the group as part of the hate group NSC-131. Tapley, a longtime local resident, said he found their presence to be shocking and depressing.

Also, in late July, multiple swastikas and racial slurs were spray-painted onto objects at the city-owned Mill Park, which police are investigating as a felony-level criminal mischief case which could also be considered a hate crime.

Objects painted with swastikas, slurs or both included the sign for the Augusta Dog Park, which is within the city-owned Mill Park, and a portable toilet, a Museum in the Streets historical sign and a trash can. Painting those items, on public property, already is illegal, without any changes to city ordinances.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said it could be difficult to determine where to draw the line between protected speech and artwork, and hate language and other things that should be banned, but the city should take on that task now, before it is faced with an offensive display and having to deal with it after the fact.

“We’ve got stuff in the news about folks moving into our state creating spaces for white supremacy, we’ve had many members of the council receive some really disturbing letters, with lots of information about anti-gay and white supremacy and things like that,” Judkins said. “So to think we’re immune from these types of things from creeping into our good little city, is pretty naïve. So I’d rather have us, once again, try to get ahead of something before it is on us and we have to take a defensive position.”


Augusta property owner Gabor Korthy had requested that the city regulate murals painted on buildings within local historic districts, including a district that covers the downtown area, which spurred the discussion about the lack of regulation on images put in public view on private property.

Brian Soldano, a muralist from Maine now based in Worcester, Mass., paints July 24 on the True North Tattoos and Piercings building at 161 Water St. in Augusta. The City Council had a discussion last week about regulating publicly-viewable art on private properties. Ashley Allen/Kennebec Journal

Korthy noted he had to have a city historic preservation board review his plans when he wanted to put a new metal roof on his Winthrop Street property, which is in an historic district and which was approved. He argued to councilors that someone painting a large mural in view of the public should also be subject to approval by such a board, due its large potential for having a visual impact on the district.

There are several murals downtown, including one recent installation on the northern end of Water Street by artist Brian Soldano of  a bionic dinosaur in a cityscape.

Langsdorf said the city could, if officials wanted, set standards for murals such as size and colors, while being careful not to overstep and regulate their specific content, or they could even ban them altogether.

Councilors declined to act on Korthy’s request, saying they didn’t want to regulate public art beyond making sure it doesn’t contain offensive things.

“I have no interest whatsoever in more government regulation for private property,” excluding things such as hate speech or symbols and other offensive items, At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen said. “I like all the murals downtown, I think it makes it a vibrant and lively community. I think we should stay out of it, with that tiny exclusion.”

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