FLORENCE — A Pride design that had been drawn in chalk at the Mobile-Court streets intersection was removed Thursday by the city of Florence, but officials said that was done because the City Code forbids street painting.
The decision drew backlash from the local LGBT community on social media, which took the action as a slight to them. This is Pride Month and the annual Equality March for Unity and Pride is June 29 downtown. The city has approved a permit for that.
Mayor Steve Holt said the Paint for Pride group submitted a permit request to Police Chief Ron Tyler on Wednesday, asking if they could paint the crosswalk between Mobile and Court streets across Mobile Plaza east and west of Court Street.
The group had emailed Tyler in May asking permission to paint the crosswalks at the intersections of Mobile and Seminary, Mobile and Court, and Mobile and Pine streets. However, Tyler had notified the group on May 22 that he does not have authority to grant permission, and directed them to the City Council and Holt.
Members of the group attended a June 4 council work session but no vote of the council was requested or taken, Holt said.
Representatives of Equality Shoals and Shoals Diversity Center issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying their understanding was that the chalk painting was authorized.
"Equality Shoals and Shoals Diversity Center are actively working on a solution to this matter," the statement reads. "Our organizations felt we were following the law, as we were led to believe when we made our statement to the Florence City Council at the work session on the fourth of June."
Holt cited a section of the City Code that states it is illegal "to write, paint or print any letters, figures, signs, devices, pictures or marks on any of the pavements or curbstones of the city unless authorized by the city."
"That's just not something I would give anybody permission to do," Holt said Thursday.
Holt said a city employee saw the painting Thursday morning and notified police. The city Fire Department hosed it off, although traces remain.
Stuart Ausbon, one of the people who coordinated the chalk project, said his understanding was that they had authorization and support from the council.
"When I presented this to the council and mayor and addressed him directly, I listed in detail what the Paint for Pride project was and how we intended to carry it out," Ausbon said. "We felt we had been approved because no one denied it."
He said he loves the city and initially felt guilty about publicity surrounding the controversy, but that guilt is gone because he feels he did nothing wrong.
"We felt supported in this project," Ausbon said. "If there were people not supportive of it, we wouldn't have carried out the project. I'm a rule follower. If we had thought for one second that were were not permitted verbally to do this, we would not have done it."
Holt said he is willing to meet with representatives of the group if they feel they have been wronged.
"We've always had a good relationship," he said. "I'm happy to talk with them about any perception of miscommunication on their part. We didn't have any perception on our part that there was miscommunication. The permit was denied."
He said spraying away the chalk was "under no circumstances" meant as a slight.
The University of North Alabama traditionally paints lion paws downtown, but Holt said the city allows that because the university is an institution. He said allowing an organization to paint the streets could open it up for any group to do so.
City officials said they have turned down a request from the city Recycling Department in the past to place recycling symbols downtown.