Since the mayor brought up a ban on sidewalk sign-shakers, let’s talk about it.
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore unexpectedly proposed the ordinance last month. Now, after the city council expressed surprise and assigned the ban to a subcommittee for study, he says he doesn’t need a new law — sign-shaking is already illegal.
What a coincidence.
Moore originally expressed his personal distaste for sign-shaking, calling it “a strange way” to advertise. Marketing should be “organized and neat,” he argued.
But that argument evaporated at Monday’s council meeting, where Moore announced that he plans to start enforcing the city’s existing ban in early 2013. Now, according to the mayor, it’s a safety issue.
Moore cannot cite an example of a sign-shaker injured by traffic. Nor can he make the case that it poses the same threat to public safety as stoplight fundraising, which the council voted to ban Monday.
Stoplight fundraisers wade into traffic at busy intersections. Sidewalk sign-shakers stand in the right-of-way.
To the mayor, that makes no difference.
“Our city is tireless in its efforts to protect citizens. ... We will not compromise public safety even in the face of adversity and criticism,” he said.
Moore worries that the city could be sued if a car careened out of control and hit a sign-shaker on a sidewalk. But a pedestrian is a pedestrian, whether he’s on the way to the drugstore, carrying a sign for a gold dealer or protesting an arbitrary city policy.
Moore also said he’d consider an exception for high school groups and other fundraisers. As councilor David Henke asked after Monday meeting, “We’re going to let school kids to do what we don’t let adults do?”
Either sign-shakers pose a public safety risk or they don’t; the mayor’s offer to create a protected class undermines his argument.
Some councilors declined to take Moore at his word and want to see if the sign ordinance says what he now says it does. If so, it needs to be amended.
Banning one type of speech on the public right-of-way opens the door to bans on other types of speech. Ultimately, whose speech is acceptable depends on who sits in city hall.
We also need to face facts — in a city with 8.3 percent unemployment, this is no time to pass laws throwing people out of work, even if their jobs strike Moore as “strange” and unruly.
Sign-shakers pose no public safety threat. There’s no outcry for their removal from city sidewalks. Moore fabricated this brouhaha out of thin air.
The mayor wasted precious time and resources by proposing a law that he now claims was already on the books. City councilors need to clean up this mess that Moore created and put it behind us once and for all.