PORT ANGELES — The Clallam Transit System board is considering whether to remove advertising from its buses in an effort to avoid any potential lawsuits.
General Manager Kevin Gallacci told the transit board Wednesday that there is a trend across the state for transit agencies to remove advertising from their buses after a federal judge ruled in 2017 that the Spokane Transit Authority violated the First Amendment when it refused to allow a union to advertise on buses.
The transit board directed staff to get more information about liability and additional insurance costs of having advertising on buses before the board agrees to discontinue advertising.
The board plans to continue the discussion at the next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 18.
“Considering the trend throughout the state and the potential risk we face here with potential litigation … we’re at a point where it is time to go out with a [request for proposals] or make a tough decision here,” Gallacci told the board.
That tough decision would mean Clallam Transit System would end its relationship with On The Move Media, an advertising company owned by Matt Bailey and Kari Martinez-Bailey of Port Angeles that has provided more than $350,000 in revenue to the transit system.
The agency has already provided $14,621 to Clallam Transit System through July, and provided more than $20,000 in revenue in 2018 and about $15,000 of revenue in 2016 and 2017. Bailey said revenues this year are projected to go up 25 percent.
Bailey said an existing agreement with Clallam Transit System does have an advertising policy and hold harmless agreement, which he said could be updated as needed to fit the needs of the board.
During public comment Bailey attempted to explain the impacts his family would face if the board discontinues advertising on buses, but became emotional as he read his prepared statement. His wife Martinez-Bailey finished his statement for him.
She said the majority of advertisers are promoting local events and public service announcements.
“This would be a difficult time for our family to lose this business, especially with our son heading off to college next month,” she said. “This business is a much-needed source of income for our family.”
Gallacci said that though the risk of litigation is the primary reason Clallam Transit System should discontinue advertising, other agencies also have seen damage to buses, ads that interfere with branding and logos, had difficulty finding responsive bidders for advertising services or have never allowed paid advertising.
“My understanding from our previous discussion and our discussion today is that there really isn’t necessarily a good way for us to limit the liability exposure,” said Mark Ozias, board member and Clallam County commissioner. “That’s just a sad reality.
“I understand the implications to your business that we’re talking about here and I suspect there is not a person sitting at this table that likes how that feels, but I don’t see that we have any effective tools to use that would limit our liability and still allow us to continue advertising.”
Board member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, who is also a Port Angeles City Council member and an attorney, suggested the only way to eliminate First Amendment lawsuits would be to allow any advertisement to be placed on the sides of busses.
Schromen-Wawrin told the board to think of “the most offensive thing you can thing of” and asked if members felt it should be on Clallam Transit System’s buses.
The Supreme Court has ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, but there is no strict definition for what is considered obscene.
“Are we willing to let that be on a Clallam Transit vehicle, because if we’re not and we’re going to try to restrict content … we’re lining ourselves up for a lawsuit,” he said. “One of the considerations has been that people judge Clallam Transit for the advertising that is on the side of the bus.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].