A pro-business political action committee called Duluth BizPAC has settled its spat with the city's transit authority. The dispute arose when ads the organization had placed on city buses were pulled in April.
In July, BizPAC sent a letter threatening to sue the Duluth Transit Authority for voiding its advertising contract and depriving members of their First Amendment right to free speech.
But on Tuesday, the two parties announced they have reached an agreement that will resolve the threatened suit and return the ads to city buses.
BizPAC issued a statement saying: "We are happy that the DTA agreed to post our advertising on its buses so that our message will be seen by all Duluthians. We did not want to get to this point but are pleased to have this issue resolved so BizPAC can continue to voice opinions regarding issues facing everyone in our city."
The ads already are back on city buses and will remain there through October, said DTA General Manager Phil Pumphrey.
Reflecting on the situation, Pumphrey said: "The Duluth Transit Authority accepts advertising to help fund bus service for the citizens of the Twin Ports area. We do not wish or intend to be in the middle of political debate for accepting advertising. We had and have a policy governing our acceptance of advertising. We reached an agreement with BizPAC, a political action committee, to avoid threatened litigation."
Pumphrey said the DTA will be reviewing its advertising guidelines in the future with an eye toward strengthening the policy to more effectively exclude political content.
"We want to work with our legal counsel to best design a policy so we do not insert the DTA in matters of political controversy, where people are taking positions," he said.
DTA staff reviewed and initially accepted three different ad designs from BizPAC, which arranged to place the messages on buses in March. In April the DTA informed BizPAC that it would discontinue the ad contract and refund the group its money.
The ads raised questions about city leadership, drawing attention to Duluth's shortage of affordable housing, questioning city government priorities and decrying the state of local streets.