MISSOURI CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE SETTLES FIRST AMENDMENT SUIT AGAINST CITY GOVERNMENT
In early February 2018, Wildwood Director of Planning and Parks Joe Vujnich held an orientation session for candidates running for political office in the city, according to court documents. During the meeting, which Salvatore attended, each candidate was given information about municipal sign restrictions. Vujnich told candidates they could place signs on private, but not public, property; if they did so anyway, the city would take them down and the candidate would have 24 hours to collect them. Otherwise, they would be thrown away. But Vujnich, according to Salvatore, did not explicitly “address wearing or holding a sign and waving at people.”
Once his campaign began that same month, Salvatore began standing on public sidewalks at various times throughout the day while holding a “Salvatore for Wildwood” campaign sign. St. Louis County police officers stopped him on several occasions, according to The St. Louis Record. The officers told Salvatore he was violating a city ordinance prohibiting people from holding signs in commercial or industrial areas; five other candidates were also forced to move signs out of public spaces, according to court records. But KMOV4 noted that the ordinance cited is unrelated to political campaigning.
Salvatore filed a lawsuit against the city of Wildwood in U.S. District Court in St. Louis in 2019, arguing that his Free Speech had been violated. Suspecting an effort by current city officials to hinder his campaign, he also invoked the Missouri Sunshine Law to gain access to texts and emails sent among city officials regarding his campaign; the law allows citizens to access government communications and documentation upon request, and it limits the fees that can be charged to comply with such requests. Salvatore alleged that he was charged exorbitant fees for accessing these materials. Statements from Salvatore’s attorneys also asserted that the records he requested were destroyed before he could gain access, violating the Sunshine Law.
Salvatore gained access to one email from Manton to the city administrator, in which Manton said that Salvatore’s sign holding negatively impacted his campaign. “[Salvatore’s] tactic does put my campaign at a serious disadvantage, regarding publicity,” Manton’s email read, according to KMOV4.