Veep ad at East

An advertisement for Veep Electric Service Inc. rests next to the scoreboard for the East Limestone High School football field.

A local business owner stood at Tuesday's meeting of the Limestone County Board of Education to defend his choice in advertising.

The ad in question features the name of the company, Veep Electric Service Inc., below the words "GO TRUMP" and "#MAGA" and next to the scoreboard on the East Limestone High School football field. Veep owner Skip Van Pamel said he's purchased a sign every year he's been in business to support East students.

"Frankly, I'm amazed at the fact I'm standing here today," Van Pamel said. "I'm standing here today to defend a sign that not only advertises my business but expresses our support for the president of the United States."

Wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, he described the sign as a positive message meant to encourage like-minded individuals to become clients of his business. He said his shirt, which featured the company's name in a Harley Davidson-style logo on the back and additional support of President Donald Trump on the front, was meant to do the same.

"These shirts, just like our sign, are not aggressive, do not attack any specific demographic or contain any offensive subject matter," Van Pamel said, adding he couldn't care less if someone was offended.

However, Limestone County resident Jim Hickman said he wasn't against the specific sign's content but instead the larger issue of vague policies that led to public school property being used as a forum for political, religious or controversial commentary. Hickman said the decision to allow this ad risked legal problems down the road for the board.

"For example, for the board to now deny an advertiser the right to buy ... space for a similar ad with an opposing viewpoint or deny an advertiser the right to similarly endorse a political candidate, our schools could face serious and expensive legal challenges," Hickman said.

Hickman encouraged board members to consider strengthening its policy on commercial advertising, acknowledge the Veep ad as one containing political speech and remove it from the East Limestone football field, citing existing policy that prevents political signs being placed on school property.

Both men met with Superintendent Tom Sisk prior to the meeting. Sisk told The News Courier on Wednesday it was not the first time the district had been asked to review advertisements at schools.

Sisk said last time it happened, more than 30 signs were taken down because they violated the district's definition of a political sign.

"It has to say 'vote for' or the year (the candidate is) being elected, or it has to be directly affiliated with that candidate," he said, adding the definition applies to all candidates, regardless of party.

He said Van Pamel's sign did not meet that criteria, so Sisk did not consider it a political advertisement.

Van Pamel told The News Courier he had previously only advertised the name and contact information for his business. After his sign was torn down and damaged in a storm before the 2018 football season, he decided to buy a new one that included support for the president.

He heard complaints during last year's football season, but it wasn't until this year that someone brought the issue to a board meeting. Board members used Hickman's and Van Pamel's statements at the meeting as a chance to hear information but did not discuss the matter or vote on any related policy changes at the meeting.

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