- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

HARRISON, Ark. (AP) - Two racially charged billboard signs have been removed at the request of the north Arkansas property owner.

Owner Carrie Myers said that when she leased the billboards three years ago she didn’t imagine they would have messages such as “Diversity is a code word for white genocide.” She had leased the billboards for five years.

Myers said the signs were offensive “to a lot of people I know, including me and my family.”

Myers sought the help of Harrison lawyer Cathy Golden to remove the signs because the billboards were protected by freedom of speech rights.

“I did not think as a landlord I had a right to censor their signs regardless of how despicable I thought they were, because of free speech,” Myers said.

But Golden and colleague Kelsey Bardwell found the permits for the signage had expired.

Golden said a billboard permit costs $40 to initiate and $20 to renew. Arkansas Department of Transportation officials said the lessee failed to renew a 2-year permit.

After Golden and Bardwell discovered the expired permit, the department sent a final notice to the lessee Feb. 1, 2016.

“Signs with expired permits are illegal and their removal is required,” the notice said.

However, the billboards weren’t taken down until last week.

Bardwell advised Harrison landowners to put a clause in their contracts that gives them the authority to approve any billboard before they’re displayed on their property.

“We were able to help her find a way to get them down,” Bardwell said. “Landowners have their own free speech rights when it comes to their property.”

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