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Tuesday, April 25, 2017
City leaders fighting losing battle against temporary signs By Bayne Hughes Staff Write
Blogger Comments: Clean up your act. If you place signs on the side of the road you should remove them as well.
Sheriff Ana Franklin is the worst abuser of all. Sheriff Ana Franklin's slogan is don't you know who I am? I have important people in high positions. Tell'em Barney, tell'em. We don't need to clean up no signs from the city of Decatur. Ana will get Big Luther on the phone to take care of you.
“Help with your mortgage,” “We buy your home,” “Lawn care: Free estimates” — these poster signs and more like them dot the corners and streets throughout the city even though they violate Decatur’s sign ordinance.
Many businesses use these temporary signs as cheap advertising. Nonprofits often use them to promote their next fundraiser or event.
City officials say it’s an ongoing battle to keep the signs from overtaking the city landscape, but there’s no penalty, other than the loss of a sign, for a violation of the ordinance.
The City Hall dumpster was full early last week of signs that city Director of Development Wally Terry collected and threw away.
Terry said sometimes he will collect hundreds of these temporary signs on the weekend.
“They are a public nuisance,” Terry said. “And they’re a safety issue, especially if they’re in a right of way and they’re blocking a driver’s view.”
Terry said the signs are allowed on private property “as long as they’re not in the right of way,” but most are placed along the high traffic areas and main thoroughfares in the city.
Councilman Charles Kirby said he particularly gets annoyed by the signs placed in the city by out-of-town businesses.
“If it’s a local company or a local event, most people are going to put them up and then remove them in a few days,” Kirby said. “But these out-of-town businesses aren’t paying for business licenses in Decatur.”
Kirby said the sign ordinance also prohibits signs posted on utility poles. He said they not only look bad on the poles but they also are a safety issue.
“They can affect the integrity of the pole,” Kirby said. “And, I know it’s a remote chance, but they could endanger the worker climbing the pole.”
The city faces three major challenges in this losing battle against temporary signs.
First, many of the violators aren’t aware that the poster signs are not allowed.
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin said Friday that she didn’t know they violate a city ordinance. Poster signs promoting the April 8-9 sheriff’s rodeo were put up throughout the city, especially in the downtown area.
Franklin said she had them removed as soon as she was informed they were a violation of the sign ordinance.
“We’ve put signs up for years and no one said anything,” Franklin said. “It’s a rule Decatur city passed, and we’re going to abide by it.”
Franklin said she’s sure city leaders had a good reason to pass the ordinance.
“They probably didn’t want to junk up the city,” Franklin said. “They probably have had a problem with people putting out the signs and not picking them up. We always made sure we retrieved our signs within a few days of the rodeo.”
Two different owners of illegally placed poster signs hung up on a call from The Decatur Daily when questioned about the issue. Another said he didn’t know it was a violation and promised to remove his signs, but refused to give his name.
The ordinance does not include any penalties for a violation and, even if there were a penalty, the city doesn’t have the staff to regularly enforce it.
“It would be nice if we could stop them (temporary signs),” Mayor Tab Bowling said. “But enforcement is a lot easier said than done, and we can’t write a citation for everything.”
Bowling said an example is the difficulty in punishing a violation of the litter ordinance, which has a $500 fine. He said a person can’t just take a picture of someone littering and have the police arrest the violator.
“You have to go to the magistrate’s office and swear out a warrant,” Bowling said. “And then you have to show up for court to support that warrant.”
Kirby said enforcement, whether of a sign ordinance or a litter ordinance, is difficult.
“There’s little that can be done unless an officer sees the people littering or putting the sign up,” Kirby said. “Unfortunately, we have a culture that tells people it’s OK and it’s not a crime to litter.”