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City Board 6-5-18: Aldermen hold hearing on sign ordinance

City Board 6-5-18 Mayor Tim Kent, June 5, 2018

The New Albany Board of Aldermen held a public hearing June 5th on its proposed new sign ordinance.

The hearing was the first item on the agenda during the regular  City Board 6-5-18 meeting Tuesday evening at city hall.

Sign Ordinance public hearing comments

Work on a new ordinance to replace the problematic sign ordinance, which went on the city books 12 years ago, has been underway for most of a year. Newly elected First Ward Alderwoman Amy Livingston declared soon after she joined the board a year ago that she would work to change the old ordinance. Interpretation and enforcement of the 2006 sign ordinance has caused problems for local businesses and city officials from the start.

In November, 2017, Livingston, City Attorney Regan Russell and Code Enforcement Office Eric Thomas formed an ad hoc group to commence work on a new ordinance. Working with many individuals and after a considerable investment of time and effort, the committee produced a new draft sign ordinance of a little more than 10-thousand words. That nearly finished document was what was being considered at the hearing.

Three individuals spoke to the board about and commented on the draft sign ordinance.:

  • New Albany businessman Terry Young spoke first.

Young, a builder and developer of commercial and residential real estate, commended the ad hoc committee for its work. While his comments indicated he believes the draft ordinance is an improvement over the 2006 ordinance, Young did explain several changes he believes should be made before the board passes the ordinance.

Young’s recommendations had to do mainly with what kind of signage would be allowed along Interstate 22. He pointed out that New Albany is the only town the entire length of I-22 that has four cloverleaf exits. He said that 9.25-million vehicles pass through New Albany on the interstate highway every year. Young said the city would benefit from making changes to the ordinance that would encourage more drivers to use one of the exits and spend money with New Albany businesses. Among his suggestions were allowing signs to be displayed at greater heights and allowing changeable electronic billboards.

Young also said that he knew of national companies that had decided against locating businesses in New Albany because the city’s sign ordinances are too restrictive.

  • Jerry Shiverdecker spoke, and he too commended the work done on the new sign ordinance draft.

Shiverdecker said it was a significant improvement, both as to rational content and clarity of language, over the 2006 ordinance. However, Shiverdecker expressed concerns about whether a sign ordinance of any kind was needed or could be justified in New Albany. He stated his opinion that any ordinance regulating signs is inherently an abridgement of free speech rights and that, anytime basic constitutional rights are limited, regulated or violated in any way, there needs to be specific and powerful justifications.

His comments echoed comments he had posted in an opinion piece post earlier this week on NANewsweb.com, with which he is associated. (http://nanewsweb.com/rant-why-have-sign-ordinance/)

Shiverdecker said he believed no compelling need had ever been shown for regulating signs in New Albany. He asked each individual alderman to state why a sign ordinance of any kind is actually needed in New Albany. The answers from each of the five aldermen indicated a belief that a sign ordinance is needed for aesthetic reasons, to make things in New Albany more attractive. Several of the aldermen essentially opined that “everything needs to be regulated.”

City Attorney Regan Russell said that he agreed that there needs to be justification any time basic constitutional rights are impacted but he believed regulating the way things look in New Albany justified having a sign ordinance. Russell also said that he did not believe there was a free speech issue, because the ordinance does not regulate content — the actual message on a sign – but only regulates appearance.

  • Bethany Dalton, a retired veteran of U.S. military service, said her experience with military facilities and practices have made her appreciate regulation and orderliness.

Comments during the sign ordinance hearing by the aldermen and the mayor indicated that the input received during the hearing would be considered while writing the final draft of the ordinance and that it was likely that the ordinance would be voted on during the board’s July 3, 2018, meeting.

City Board 6-5-18 routine business

In other business, Bill Mattox, manager of the city-owned New Albany Lights, Gas, and Water (NALGW) told the board of changes in electrical service and traffic control lights that would be made in connection with the widening of Coulter Drive.

Billie Jean Stroud, who is New Albany Main Street Manager and Tourism Director, said four responses had been received to a Request for Quotation (RFQ) that had been issued seeking someone to act as a “city planner” and that interviews from the respondents would be conducted.

In response. Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson said, “I think we need a city plan but I don’t think we need a city planner,” and, he said, “I don’t think there’s any reason to go forward with interviews.”

Stroud then referred to the fact that she and others are working with the “M-Partner” program the University of Mississippi has offered to New Albany and two other Mississippi municipalities. She said work done this far with MPartner caused her to believe that a community plan could develop from that effort. MPartner is a community outreach program Ole Miss started earlier this year through its McLean Institute of Public Service and Engagement. Alderwoman Livingston, who has advocated for developing a city plan for New Albany, then said she agreed that, “There is no need to go forward with interviews of a city planner.”

Police Chief Chris Robertson received approval to buy “body cams” for the officers in his department. The purchase will cost $23,000, but the money is available from grants and funds already budgeted by the city.

A decision on selecting employee group health insurance plans for city workers had been on earlier versions of the city agenda, but was not on the version used Tuesday night. When asked, Mayor Tim Kent said the board was still developing the information needed to make that decision.

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