Mount Dora mayor apologizes to 'Starry Night' mural owners

Apology comes as part of lawsuit settlement

MOUNT DORA, Fla. – Mount Dora Mayor Nick Girone publicly apologized to the owners of the "Starry Night" mural as part of a legal settlement that also stipulates the city pay the couple $15,000.

The settlement comes after a yearlong lawsuit in which Nancy Nemhauser and Ludomir Jastrzebski alleged the city violated their First and 14th Amendment rights by fining them $100 a day for a large mural of Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" that covers the walls of their home on West Sixth Avenue.

"We are glad that this nightmare is over," Jaztrzebski said.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Girone called the matter an unfortunate dispute and said he's glad to have it settled. 

“With this matter behind us, the city wants to look ahead and focus on reviewing our present codes and to continue and embrace arts and artists with open arms, since we are someplace special," Girone said.

Part of that code review process includes creating a citizen committee that will examine current codes and their enforcement policies. 

Nemhauser will sit on that committee. She thanked the mayor Wednesday and said she looks forward to moving past the drama in which her family has been snarled for months.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have this behind us and to work with our neighbors. We love Mount Dora. This is the first and only bad experience we've had in Mount Dora, and we’re confident that’s behind us,” Nemhauser said.

The $15,000 the city has been ordered to pay will come through Mount Dora's insurance carrier and close out the code enforcement lien on the property. The mural will be allowed to stay as long as it is finished within 180 days and will also be grandfathered in to any future code changes.

Along with Girone, the couple's attorney, Jeremy Talcott, was also in attendance at the Wednesday afternoon news conference.

[PICTURES: Mount Dora mural]

"The settlement is a total vindication of Nancy and Lubek's rights. It accomplishes everything we set out to accomplish when we took over this case: the mural is saved, the unjust fines are removed, and the city has agreed to revise its unconstitutional sign code," Talcott said. "When laws are as vague and overbroad as Mount Dora's sign code, homeowners can't know what is prohibited, and there's an unacceptable risk that officials will use the laws to censor speech they don't like. That's exactly what happened here."

City officials said to date their insurance company has paid $41,854.53 for legal fees regarding this case. Officials said due to the nature of this case, the city did not have to pay a deductible or any other cost for these legal fees since they were covered under the policy.

About the Author: