Signs of the Times

700

His election isn’t until August. His opposition is so nominal that she hasn’t even filed a committee, while he had nearly $12,000 in the bank as of his January finance report. He is backed by the Walton clan, a family organization which has its fingers in so many political pies that it is hard to keep track. But this didn’t stop Jay Mosley from erecting mini billboards on residential properties, in defiance of Ferguson’s sign ordinance.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that good laws are needed to reign in the conduct of bad people. And Ferguson’s sign ordinance is an example of where such laws fall short. Ordinance permits election signs, as it must, but they are limited to six square feet per face, and a total of twelve square feet. Mosely’s sign violates both of these provisions, which are intended to forbid precisely the sort of sign which he has erected.

Unfortunately, Ferguson sign ordinances make it impossible to prevent the city from being littered with mini billboards. The sole enforcement provision of our sign ordinance requires notice to the homeowner, and gives them fifteen days to remove the sign. That means a candidate can literally spread billboards throughout our neighborhoods, with absolute impunity, and be assured that they will remain in place for two full weeks before the election. That needs to change.

An equally troubling fact is that, since most of what appears to be public right of way is in fact private property, the same shortfall applies to the endless parade of commercial signs that pop up all over our city. “We buy houses for cash.” “Sell your diabetic test strips.” “Gun show at St. Charles Convention Center.” These signs are thrown up at intersections, on commercial properties and vacant lots, without any risk of penalty. That also needs to change.

In order to prevent bad political actors such as Mr. Mosely from gaming the system, we must amend our sign ordinance to provide for immediate removal of nonconforming signs which exceed the six square foot per face limit. To prevent a clever politician from simply splitting his sign into smaller pieces, the same provision should apply when a candidate erects multiple signs near each other, the total of which exceeds six square feet per face. This would allow the city to immediately remove mini billboards from residential areas.

The city should also pass an ordinance providing for the immediate removal of unlawful commercial signs, along with an enhanced penalty for violations. We suggest that a penalty of $100 per violating sign, to be assessed against the beneficiary of the sign, would serve as a deterrent to those who would litter our city with these eyesores. Penalizing the sign beneficiary, rather than the property owner, is important, because nearly all of these signs are erected without the property owner’s permission. A city worker could easily earn the city a thousand dollars in violations in an hour. And eventually, abusive commercial entities will stop viewing Ferguson as a haven for self serving misconduct.