DUNN, N.C. — State Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett asked the owner of a billboard in Harnett County to voluntarily remove the sign and others like it because people say they are offensive. The owner took offense at Tippett and sent him a message for all to see.
Jerry Sullivan runs an outdoor advertising company in Florida and owns Cafe Risque, whose billboard signs can be found across Harnett County. Sullivan believes Tippett was trying to violate his First Amendment rights.
The Dunn Area Tourism Authority has sent a letter of support to Tippett, saying the town prides itself on its quality of life.
"We're doing everything we can in this county to encourage development and investment in our city, and that's not doing anything to help our cause," said John Snipes, of the Downtown Development Committee.
The town said the billboard hurts tourism, and even some tourists agree.
"You can't advertise cigarettes in a magazine. Why should you be allowed to advertise that stuff for the whole country to see? It's just offensive," South Carolina resident Sue James said.
The state Department of Transportation cannot simply tear down the billboards because the state does not regulate content. It is a federal issue.
WRAL tried to reach Tippett and Sullivan, but both were unavailable. Sullivan does have a Web site where he apologizes to the secretary for his "knee-jerk reaction," but he also plans to sue Tippett and the DOT.