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Mandan halts mural permits until bar’s lawsuit is resolved

July 29, 2019
FILE - In this April 19, 2019, file photo, Brian Berube, co-owner of the Lonesome Dove on "the Strip," poses for a photo in Mandan, N.D. The city of Mandan has halted accepting mural permit applications and enforcing regulation until a dispute over a mural is resolved. Lonesome Dove bar owners Brian Berube and August Kersten filed a lawsuit in May 2019, over a Western-themed mural outside their bar that the city ordered removed. The Bismarck Tribune reports that an ordinance prohibits murals on the front of the building. The owners say that violates free speech. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)
FILE - In this April 19, 2019, file photo, Brian Berube, co-owner of the Lonesome Dove on "the Strip," poses for a photo in Mandan, N.D. The city of Mandan has halted accepting mural permit applications and enforcing regulation until a dispute over a mural is resolved. Lonesome Dove bar owners Brian Berube and August Kersten filed a lawsuit in May 2019, over a Western-themed mural outside their bar that the city ordered removed. The Bismarck Tribune reports that an ordinance prohibits murals on the front of the building. The owners say that violates free speech. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — Mandan city leaders have halted accepting mural permit applications and enforcing related regulations until a dispute over artwork outside one bar is resolved.

Lonesome Dove bar owners Brian Berube and August Kersten sued the city in May after they were ordered to remove a Western-themed mural in front of the building. The mural depicts the name of the bar along with a rearing horseman against brown hills at sunset.

The Mandan City Commission ordered the removal because the business doesn’t have a permit for the outdoor artwork. The Mandan Architectural Review Commission later denied the bar’s permit application because city guidelines state that no mural may be placed on the front of the building.

The owners’ lawsuit argues that the city’s enforcement stifles free speech. The case is set to go to trial in 2021.

The city has decided not to enforce its mural guidelines or accept new mural permit applications pending the lawsuit or until the city decides to pass a new ordinance, which would not occur before fall, according to City Planner John Van Dyke.

“The city has recently filed its answer and jury demand in federal court in which it denies plaintiffs’ lawsuit claims of constitutional violations and preserves all of its legal defenses to those claims,” Van Dyke said in an emailed statement to the Bismarck Tribune .

Attorney Robert Frommer, who’s with the Institute for Justice representing Berube and Kersten, is sticking to his argument.

“The right to put up a mural is the right to free speech; it’s protected by the Constitution, and the government doesn’t get to play art critic,” Frommer said.

Melissa Gordon, an artist who painted murals in Mandan, said she believes the city’s ordinance has a purpose.

“I think (Mandan) encourages art,” Gordon said. “It’s just, if you don’t have rules and ordinances in place, people are going to start pushing the boundaries.”

She said she has projects planned in Mandan, but they’re on hold because of the lawsuit.

“It’s frustrating,” she said, adding that murals potentially won’t be allowed in the city until the fall, when it’s too cold to paint.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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