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Branded: Wildwood council debates city logo, trademark usage following email blast

The Wildwood City Council meeting on March 11 was another evening of accusations, political posturing and personal attacks. Despite the promise of a potentially productive night after a cordial and cooperative council work session, once the clock passed 7 p.m., the temperature of the dais dropped considerably.

[Left to right] Wildwood City Attorney John Young, Mayor Jim Bowlin and City Co-Administrator Steve Cross listen to a heated debate over the use of the city logo.

At the previous meeting on Feb. 25, a divided council approved a resolution of censure against Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3]. The resolution brought by Councilmember Greg Stine [Ward 7] capped off a meeting that did not end until nearly midnight, and despite comments from several councilmembers, any hope that the action against Shea would signal the end of council’s infighting quickly vanished.

“With all due respect, I know you are a doctor, I’m just glad you’re a better doctor than an attorney or we’d have people walking around here with their feet sewn on backward,” Councilmember Steve Taylor [Ward 4] said in response to accusations against Mayor Jim Bowlin brought forward by Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1].

Taylor’s comments came amid a debate over the proper use of the city’s logo, motto and other items protected by copyright. They were met with groans and gasps from the audience and rebuke by some councilmembers. According to Taylor, he later offered an apology for his remarks to Gragnani and the council.

The original complaint against Bowlin, brought forward by a member of the public and placed on the March 11 meeting agenda by Gragnani, was over the mayor’s use of protected images, including the city logo, in an email on Jan. 19. The email was sent to Ward 6 residents and contained an invitation to meet with the mayor on Feb. 14 at Wildwood City Hall.

Gragnani asked the council to affirm the city’s policy, adopted in 2005, on the “use of city logos or copyrighted materials.”

“Is it your intent that city officials would not be allowed to use the logo in relation to city meetings?” Bowlin asked Gragnani.

“The answer to your question is that if it’s a legitimate city meeting, then the city has the right to its own logo,” Gragnani responded. “But if it’s not a legitimate city meeting, then you [Bowlin] don’t have a right to the logo.”

The central issue was whether the Feb. 14 event was a meeting of official city business or something else. Although Bowlin argued that under any reasonable interpretation of the policy, the mayor has the purview to use city logos to advertise a public meeting, the email in question led some councilmembers to believe the meeting did not reflect the mayor acting in an official capacity.

“What the mayor did certainly violates the policy,” Councilmember Tim Woerther [Ward 7] said. “The fact of the matter is, the policy needs to be affirmed.”

The proposed agenda for the meeting, as listed in the text of the Jan. 19 email, included the new trash collection and recycling plan; planned residential overlay district [PRD] changes affecting three-acre minimums; rural internet program developments; a Wildwood 2020 Vision Plan update; ccouncilmember voting records on key Ward 6 issues and planned Hwy. 109 improvements.

The message also included a commentary on term limits” where it was noted that “Our Planning & Zoning Commission has a Ward 7 holdover who’s been on the Commission for 11 years.” While not explicitly named in the text, it was clear Bowlin was referring to Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Rick Archeski.

Bowlin has made four unsuccessful attempts to replace Archeski in the past. Archeski is a holdover on the commission who was “grandfathered” in despite term limit rules passed after his initial appointment. Bowlin’s latest attempt to replace Archeski was at the Feb. 25 council meeting.

Shea pointed out that the mayor’s message was not sent from a city email account but from the mayor’s personal email. When asked about this point later by a reporter, Bowlin said he used a personal email list of Ward 6 residents that came from a personally held email account.

“Any email sent by me from any email address concerning city business is maintained for public disclosure, per applicable requirements,” Bowlin said.

After more than 20 minutes of debate, the motion offered by Gragnani to affirm the city’s standing policy on logo and trademark usage passed unanimously. No specific actions were taken by the council against Bowlin.

In comments provided to the media the following day, Bowlin characterized what transpired as “wasteful.”

“Our logo belongs to all Wildwood residents – not just a select few who were entrenched and want to use it as a weapon to control elected officials,” Bowlin said. 

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