State Supreme Court affirms LCSD right to deny billboard

By HASKEL BURNS,

The Supreme Court of Mississippi has ruled in favor of the Lamar County School District in regard to the district denying the installation of an LED advertising billboard on its 16th Section leasehold on Old Highway 11.

According to documents provided by the court, justices on May 30 found no error in the district’s denial to allow Smith Petroleum – formerly known as Mississippi Oil – to complete a 10-by-22-foot sign on 2,945 square feet of land.

The school board initially denied Mississippi Oil’s request in August 2017, after discussion on the difference between a license and a lease in using billboards, safety concerns with the lighting and an earlier denial for Lamar Advertising to build a billboard across the highway.

Because both billboards are inside the Hattiesburg city limits, both sign company owners received permits from the city. However, Mississippi Oil – which was licensing the content of the billboard to Busby Signs – began building its sign before getting permission from the Lamar County School Board because it is on 16th Section Land, which is regulated by local school districts and the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.

Mississippi Oil had proposed in an Aug. 11 letter that it would pay $1,000 in additional rental fee over their lease and would provide the board with advertising space for four events per year.

At that school board meeting, Board President Buddy Morris said safety is his main concern.

“This is my whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about the $1,000 a year, but it’s about making sure that this very fast-growing area is safe. That’s why we turned down Lamar. We want to make sure the brightness of your digital signs doesn’t hinder traffic or cause accidents. That’s my issue.”

Mississippi Oil then filed a Notice of Appeal and Bill of Exceptions in Lamar County Chancery Court, where Chancellor Johnny Williams affirmed the district’s denial of the oil company’s request. In the Supreme Court ruling, justices affirmed the judgment of the chancery court.

“The Board did not act in an arbitrary or capricious manner,” the Supreme Court document states. “The Board expressed concerns with safety, including the glare emitted by an LED billboard, the proximity to the road traveled by students, and the condition of the road (the curve) where the billboard would be constructed.

“Smith Petroleum and Busby were not treated any differently than others who had requested permission to construct LED billboards. The Board’s decision was consistent with its previous denials of such requests from Lamar Outdoor and Headrick’s Signs.”