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Published February 08, 2012, 10:39 AM

Dispute over signs roils residents in Little Falls

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — Robin Hensel says it's only fair that since the city of Little Falls ordered her to take down signs in her yard supporting the Occupy Wall Street and peace movements, the city should have to remove its "We Support Our Troops" banner from a downtown bank.

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) — Robin Hensel says it's only fair that since the city of Little Falls ordered her to take down signs in her yard supporting the Occupy Wall Street and peace movements, the city should have to remove its "We Support Our Troops" banner from a downtown bank.

She says the issue is not what her signs or the banner say — it's about the central Minnesota city following its own ordinance. She says her freedom of free speech has been violated, and that she has received death threats over the Internet on the issue.

Hensel told the Brainerd Dispatch for a story published Wednesday (http://bit.ly/A5LTp7 ) that she was barred from keeping the signs in her yard because they violated a city signage ordinance. She said the banner on the American National Bank building also violates it. She said the banner should have a permit, but it doesn't, and it's bigger than allowed by the ordinance.

Interim city administrator Lori Kasella said the dispute began when the city received more than a dozen complaints that Hensel had too many signs in her yard in violation of the ordinance and that they had become a distraction.

"The complaints were that her yard was full of signs," Kasella said. "It wasn't so much about what was on the signs themselves, but that the signs were neon green and neon yellow and there were so many of them that it became a traffic issue."

Kasella said Hensel disregarded a first "nice" letter from the asking her to remove the signs but complied after the city sent her a second letter.

Hensel then filed a complaint with the city Friday, saying the "We Support Our Troops" banner violated the ordinance on signs in the town's historic district. This upset several residents who gathered a dozen signatures on a letter saying the banner should stay up. The banner has been placed at various Little Falls businesses over the past 10 years.

"To ask the city to take the 'We Support Our Troops' sign down is not only aggravating, it is disgusting," the letter said. "As residents of Little Falls we are proud to display this sign and ... are proud to state 'We Support Our Troops.' Men and woman have died for us to be free, the minimum we can do is support them."

Six residents argued against removing the banner during Monday's city council meeting. The council took no action.

Kasella acknowledged the ordinance doesn't allow banners in historic areas, but said the city's Heritage Preservation Commission has the right to recommend deviating from the policy, and the council has the ultimate say. She also said the city's planning commission will review the sign ordinance and make a recommendation to the council.

Hensel told the city in her letter that the council should take down the banner without her having to pursue it further.

"I have received death threats toward myself and my family and cannot risk my safety and theirs. ... One individual should not need to risk their life, to have city council uniformly enforce the sign ordinance," she wrote.

Hensel told the newspaper her children fear for her life and want her to back off, but she's going to continue to support the peace and Occupy movements.

"It's a great disappointment to me," she said. "People think that I'm a terrible person and that is the furthest from the truth. I'm a respected individual and I'm proud of the peace group here and standing up for veterans."

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