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Jonesboro considers changing rules on political signs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With only a few days before candidates in the 2009 Jonesboro city election can legally put up campaign signs, the city has called a special meeting to consider a revision of its sign ordinance.

If approved, proposed changes would extend the time in which campaign signs may be displayed, as well as remove limitations on the size of signs, and the number that can be posted on a property.

"We're removing political signs from being controlled by the ordinance," Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said on Thursday. "It's really made to keep the Code Enforcement officers for the next six weeks from having to go around and measure political signs.

"Right now, there is a limit to four signs that they can have on one lot," he continued. "That will be removed in the new ordinance. Now, signs cannot be put up until six weeks before the election ... This will be extended to 90 days. We're also talking about giving them 10 days [after the election to remove the signs], in order to give them plenty of time to pick up the signs."

The existing city code defines a "stake sign" as any temporary sign supported by uprights which are placed in the ground with "signable area not greater than five square feet."

The proposed revision would create a definition for a "political stake sign" as "a stake sign, of any size, shape, or height notwithstanding the limitations contained in the definition of stake sign, containing a message related to an upcoming election."

The current section of the code also says political signs can only be placed "for a period of 45 days immediately preceding a federal, state, Clayton County or City of Jonesboro election or referendum," and must be removed "one day after conclusion of the election period." If approved, that section would be replaced with one extending the placement period for signs to 90 days before, and 10 days after an election.

The placement of political signs on public rights-of-way would still be restricted in the new ordinance, according to Maddox.

Seven people will run for three at-large seats on the Jonesboro City Council on Nov. 3. Incumbents Rick Yonce, Clarence Mann and Billy Powell will face challenges from Pat Sebo, Shawn Wooten, Joe Compton, and Brad Johnson.

Some involved in this year's election believe the ordinance is being changed at the last minute to accommodate some current members of the city council.

Councilman Powell says the proposed change represents "a conflict of interest" for members of the council up for election.

"The qualifying was three weeks ago," Powell said on Thursday. "In the qualifying packet, you had what qualified as legal signs. It is changing the rules of the ballgame before it gets started to fit the home team."

Powell said he believes the proposed changes would result in urban clutter. "With this kind of law, you could put a billboard in your lawn," he said. "You could put up as many billboards in your yard as you want and have the whole city covered up for three months ... That's not what we need."

Councilman Mann said he believes "it is senseless" to change the city's sign ordinance. "All of the signs that I have seen are the same signs that have been used in the elections here for years," Mann said. "We've had it [the current ordinance] for years and years, and it has only become an issue now. I would say just leave it."

Some members of the council believe city restrictions on political signs need to be loosened. "I've been involved in a lot of political campaigns," said Councilman Roger Grider. "I honestly don't know that I have seen a political sign that is bigger than 4 [feet] by 8 [feet]. I think when you get on political signs, it's a personal statement and a political statement, and [restricting them] kind of infringes on peoples' personal rights. Political signs don't need to be regulated unless [they are] on the right-of-way."

"It's pretty restrictive," said Councilman Wallace Norrington of the current sign ordinance. "I think it needs some working on. If you put a bunch of signs up, it's pretty hard to remove them all in one day. I don't know whether we need to change the size of the signs."

Councilmen Rick Yonce and Bobby Wiggins could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The city council is expected to vote on the proposed sign ordinance today at 10 a.m., at the Jonesboro Police Department, located at 170 South Main St.