Sign enforcement must be consistent

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Our Opinion

By Dave Bell

A complaint lodged against a Vandalia citizen who posted signs on public property near his home advertising garden produce for sale has resulted in discussions of how the city’s sign ordinance should be enforced.
Currently, enforcement of the city’s lengthy sign ordinance is driven by complaints – meaning that the city doesn’t enforce it unless someone complains.
Well, someone complained about Dave Hill’s vegetable sign. So now he’s complained to city aldermen about the city’s enforcement practices.
He’s got a point.
“There are signs all over this town that are not on their personal property,” Hill said at last Monday’s city council meeting. “I’m just wondering why the covenants of the law are being administered the way they’re being administered.”
Admittedly, it could be time consuming to have the city’s code administrator chasing down every sign that appears on public property in town. But it’s clear that the complaint-driven policy is setting the city up for uneven enforcement of the laws that are on the books. And it’s ensuring that the visual clutter that we have been enduring will continue. In short, the more signs we allow to be posted in violation of the ordinance, the more signs will appear.
At issue are signs that are placed on city right-of-way property rather than on private property. Businesses, individuals and political candidates must know and follow the laws governing the placement of signs. And those placed in violation of the law should be taken down.
But by whom? Does the city try to determine who is responsible for the sign and go to the trouble of contacting them to (hopefully) get it removed. Or does the city  direct city Code Official Keith Meadows or public works employees to simply remove the illegally placed signs as they see them. Either way, it will be time consuming and there will be controversies.
Hopefully, it won’t take too long for the message to get out that signs placed in violation of the ordinance will disappear.
The alternative is to let the visual clutter get worse and the inconsistent enforcement continue because we’re unwilling to enforce the law.