Free speech limits tested in dispute between neighbors

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Free speech limits tested in dispute between neighbors

You wouldn’t want to get on James Edward Avery’s bad side.

The self-described “gay, progressive Razorback,” who lives on Mason Mill Road in the shadow of Emory University, has raised the ire of his neighbors with a display of accusatory signs targeting everyone from former Vice President Dick Cheney to “Hitlery” Clinton to the retired couple who once lived across the street.

The handwritten polemics are surrounded by inflatable decorations — mostly blow-ups associated with Halloween and Christmas. But there’s also a black cross with stuffed reindeer hanging from its flanks.

Avery, 50, describes himself as the community Lorax, named after the irascible Dr. Seuss character

But neighbors say they’ve had enough.

“People are afraid to walk past his property,” wrote Bobby Rasulina in a complaint sent to DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis. “His balloons are causing financial harm to property owners trying to sell or rent homes in the neighborhood.”

DeKalb’s Code Compliance Division spokesman Burke Brennan said the department has received numerous complaints about Avery.

“People have reached a point of frustration,” Brennan said.

Code enforcement representatives met with Avery on Oct. 12 regarding violations, which include nailing signs to trees and displaying signage that exceed 6 square feet.

Avery, who had relented after running afoul of the code compliance division in the past, said this time he wants his day in court.

“I want to stand in front of a judge because I have freedom of speech,” said Avery, who’s due in court Nov. 27.

Even if he’s found guilty of the violations, there’s not much, beyond issuing fines, the county can do.

“In the grand scheme of legal offenses, a signage violation isn’t even a misdemeanor,” Brennan said.

And Avery, who accuses the county of selectively enforcing codes, said he’s eager to fight.

Meanwhile, his neighbors are desperate for relief.

“We as a neighborhood need your assistance in protecting our property values, integrity of our personal beliefs and safety of the families in the neighborhood,” Rasulina said in his letter urging Ellis to intervene.

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