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May 31, 2013

Peabody to fight billboard move

PEABODY — On a hot night the City Council had hot words while voting 10-0 to order city lawyers back into court to fight the effort of Total Outdoor Corp. to move a 92-foot billboard to the spot where a judge originally ordered it to go.

The company has made a motion in Superior Court seeking “relief from judgment,” allowing it to put the Lowell Street billboard in the proper place and end a cease and desist order that prevents it from mounting ads on the structure.

“You read their motion,” said Councilor Anne Manning-Martin, “and it’s laughable.” She accused Total Outdoor lawyer Mitchell Ross of “trying to back his way out of a mistake. ... I find them deceitful. I find them dishonest.”

“This was no mistake,” said Councilor Jim Liacos. “They put it there to get a better location.”

“I’ve never been so appalled reading a document in my entire life,” said Councilor Dave Gravel, referring to the motion. “They acted in bad faith.” Noting that Judge Howard Whitehead of the Superior Court had raised the possibility of sending the billboard company back to the council for a special permit, he laughed, “Good luck to them.”

The meeting was an extraordinary session where councilors listened to legal advice from City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski in open session, with up to 35 residents watching from the gallery. He successfully recommended opposing the Total Outdoor motion for relief and added that he would present the city’s position in court today.

Also looking on, lawyer Jack Keilty, representing Total Outdoor, declared when it was over, “Let the re-election campaigns begin,” suggesting that the councilors were pandering to the voters. He offered his own version of the sequence of events involving the billboard, asserting that the council had originally voted on a plan that would have put the pole mere feet from where it is now.

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