Letter: Sign ordinance “off the rails”

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Editor,

The right-of-way ordinance regarding signs has gone off the rails at the county and city levels.

County commissioner Mark Heirbrandt representing the county said an ordinance is needed to be consistent with all the cities, suggesting the city ordinances should be the model for the county.  County commissioners have now passed three ordinances, repealed two and unsure if one will stand. The city that had a model ordinance passed a new ordinance March 26, stating it needed to mirror the county but now they don’t match. The city still includes infractions and $500 penalties.

But the state also has codes on signs, and specifically “election signs” IC 36-1-3-11, and no one considered if they are consistent, mirrored or modeled. This code clearly covers unincorporated areas of Hamilton County. No need for a county ordinance for those areas because they are covered by state code. So, we have one more law to try to decipher. Clearly, this is about political signs at this time of year when signs could be posted starting March 10 per state code.

But now we are in the middle of “sign” season of 66 days (state code) and the county and city want to change the rules. Candidates have their signs up. Will they have to drive the entire county and move them if these new ordinances stand?

My advice to the county and city: Wait until after the primary election, get your ducks in a row, do your due diligence and only pass new sign ordinances with strong arguments and evidence of the need – wasting taxpayer time and money and causing confusion.

I’m going to share my questions and communications with Jim Ake, council president, as he was featured in your April 3 article on the subject.

“Jim,

Saw your comments in Current today. This morning before 9:30 the Hamilton County Commissioners repealed the ordinance the City ordinance mirrored.

Last Thursday Judge Hughes pointed out many flaws. The Commission passed a new sign ordinance with many changes including taking out the $500 fine.

What are you going to do now?  Maybe you should have accepted Councilor Spoljaric’s suggestion. Clearly Attorney Zaiger couldn’t predict the outcome.

Oh, the Ordinance to amend the UDO regarding signs didn’t have a public hearing at Monday’s APC. Why?

Respectfully,
Linda Naas”

Jim’s response on April 4:

“This proposal was agreed to by the four mayors and county commissioners to address the public demand to eliminate ground sign clutter in a clear, enforceable and consistent county wide manner. The ordinance was properly promulgated. After council introduction on March 12, I received only 1 comment on this legislation. On March 26th, Council voted 7-0  and it passed.

Council is in support of the county in adopting the same ordinance. We held back our publication to see if a ruling on the county ordinance came just in case. We will follow suit with the county and will continue to do so as to avoid a tangled web of rules and obligations for Washington Township.”

My email response to Jim on April 4, copying the entire city council:

“What about consistency throughout the county as it relates to state jurisdiction. I think the argument for consistency falls apart when you don’t include state.  Throughout the city and county there are state highways. So why not support an ordinance that is consistent with state code at least? Are you expecting candidates, volunteers and private residents to decipher the differences.

So does that mean the City will repeal and adopt an ordinance similar to the Commissioners’ yesterday and whatever happens beyond that, the City will continue to mirror? Why should the residents of Westfield care what 3 other Mayors think when no one asked what they think? So it’s not about public safety but about “ground sign clutter”?  Your City government hasn’t enforced other ground sign clutter since the 2014 ordinance.  But sign clutter is preference for appearance and doesn’t outweigh rights to free speech.

Where is proof that political signs cause accidents as you claim the cause of public safety?  Do we have police reports?

Clearly from the meeting yesterday, the county commissioners don’t care what the Sheriff thinks about the difficulty of enforcing such an ordinance.  Who will enforce at the City level of government?

Where is the public demand you mention?  Show us the evidence of your claim.

Why no public hearings?  I don’t think you know what the public thinks without those.  You mention one comment you received; was that from Rick McKinney, County Council?  It seems you and the City can’t accept state code as sufficient and continue to encroach on people’s right to free speech and their private property rights.

With your comments in the Current, the $500 fines were brought out which is telling of your view and motivation if this is the important point to make.  The commissioners knew enough from Court to remove the fines from their newly voted sign ordinance.

Did you forget that the Westfield ordinance in existence before 3/26/18 protected public safety in regards to political signs?  So it’s not about that.

Is it unbridled power?  I can legislate, so I do.

The timing of this issue on sign ordinance clearly shows it is about “political signs”.  Otherwise, you and the county commissioners would have taken the time to study the issue and not make such a debacle of it.  The commissioners have now passed 3 different ordinances and the latest doesn’t match the City’s.

Your champion in this matter, Mark Heirbrandt, (Westfield resident and County Commissioner) violated all government level ordinances in his last election when he left his signs up beyond 6 days after the primary election through the general election and beyond.  Mayor Cook’s large signs remained up during the entire time primary to general.  Will you continue to choose on whom to enforce the sign ordinance, which is a political action?

Respectfully,

Linda Naas

P.S. Consider this a letter to the Council opposing the change in the right-of-way sign ordinances in Westfield.”

Response from Jim Ake. Jim did not answer even one of my questions but instead made a personal attack. Westfield has been in existence 184 years.

“Linda,

Where do you get the right to put words in my mouth? You are inaccurate in your statements and make false assumptions. I don’t understand your animus toward this city. Why?

Personally, I wake up every day with the thought of making Westfield a vital place for all to live, work, play, in a safe wholesome environment for you and everyone who lives here. I want to insure stability and sustainability of our community for the next hundred years and beyond. I am sorry that you feel as you do.

Jim

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