A sign zoning dispute between the city of Princeton and sign maker Tim Siercks and his business, Minuteman Press, won’t be going to trial in Mille Lacs County District Court.
The two settled to a plea that results in the case being continued for one year beyond the May 12, 2014, settlement date. If after one year, Siercks has complied with the terms of the plea agreement, City Attorney Damien Toven of Dove Fretland & Van Valkenburg will dismiss the matter on May 12, 2015.
The following information on the case is based on a memo from the city’s law firm.
Last August, Siercks and Minuteman Press were hired to create and install signage on a new business in Princeton, Paws Up 4 You. Siercks met with city of Princeton officials and was informed that the signs were not allowed under city ordinance.
In October 2013, Siercks submitted an application for a permit to install the signs. Also in October, the city denied Siercks’ request. On Dec. 27, Siercks installed on the Paws Up 4 You building signage that did not meet the city’s zoning requirements.
On Jan. 7, 2014, Siercks was directed to remove the signs within seven days. Two days later, on Jan. 9, Siercks submitted another application for a permit regarding the Paws Up 4 You signs. Another denial letter was sent to Siercks on Jan. 21.
Paws Up 4 You owner Christine Stuck attended the Jan. 23 City Council meeting and asked that the signs on her business be allowed to remain. Siercks was in the audience that night. The City Council denied Stuck’s request and explicitly directed the signs be removed.
Stuck sent Siercks an email on Jan. 28 directing him to remove the signs. He said he was seeking City Council action on the matter (despite the council taking action at its Jan. 23 meeting explicitly directing the signs be removed) and would take appropriate action after that meeting.
City staff referred the matter to the Princeton Police Department the following day.
Results of the investigation were then given to the city attorney’s office. On March 5, a criminal complaint was filed in Mille Lacs County District Court (Court File 48-CR-14-391). Siercks was charged with two misdemeanors for violating the city’s sign ordinance. If convicted, the maximum fines were 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for each count. A county judge reviewed the case and determined there was probable cause to move forward.
Siercks hired an attorney and a hearing was held in Mille Lacs County Court on May 12. It was during that hearing that the plea agreement was reached.
If Siercks complies with the conditions of the plea agreement for one year, the case against him will be dismissed and no criminal conviction will ever appear on his record, according to a memo to the City Council from its law firm.
Under the plea agreement:
• Siercks can have no same or similar violations of the city’s ordinances for 12 months.
• He must pay $250 in court costs.
• Signs on Paws Up 4 You were ordered to be removed by 5 p.m. May 26 or by that date have a permit allowing the signs.
Siercks also was required to admit to the allegations that, if proven at trial, would result in a conviction and to waive any rights to raise “affirmative defenses” should he case return to trial.
Toven stated to the City Council that charges were filed against Siercks because “The city enforces the law.”
At the same time, coming to a plea agreement was the “just” thing to do.
“The purpose of the criminal proceeding was to bring Mr. Siercks’ behavior into compliance with the law and ensure similar conduct does not occur in the future. But a criminal conviction can carry a lifetime of consequences. Based on the facts of this case, I felt it appropriate to give Mr. Siercks an opportunity to avoid these consequences,” Toven wrote.
Toven further stated that Siercks has taken responsibility for his actions and the attorney had every expectation that Siercks would be successful and that the matter will be dismissed after one year.