ELKHART — Retailers who employ people to promote their business by holding signs along road won a victory at city hall Monday night.
But the fight goes on.
A revised ordinance prohibiting stoplight fundraisers — with no mention of sign wavers — was approved unanimously by city council Monday night.
The original ordnance debated last week was resubmitted to council Monday without any mention of sign wavers.
That’s because, according to Mayor Dick Moore, the city’s legal office realized while researching the issue that language in the city’s existing sign ordinance already bans advertising in city right of way.
The city interprets that to include sign wavers.
Moore said city officials will begin issuing warnings Jan. 1 to businesses that use sign wavers and will begin enforcing the ban Feb. 1.
Moore said there are often many ordinances that are on the books that are never enforced. The sign ordinance was established before he was elected mayor and said he doesn’t know why it wasn’t being enforced.
Somebody, Moore said, dropped the ball.
Council members who support the sign wavers vowed to look into the language of the sign ordnance and may seek to revise it to protect retailers who use sign wavers to promote their business.
Moore says the issue boils down to pubic safety. Even though officials are unaware of any sign wavers ever being injured from motor traffic, Moore said they can’t leave it to chance.
“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 said he believes the city could be the target of a lawsuit if a sign waver standing in the public right of way is injured by motor vehicle.
Moore draws a distinction between public right-of-way — which includes sidewalks along roads — and private property.
If a business chooses to use sign wavers on private property, Moore said he would not object.
Moore said he believes an exception to the sign waving ban should be made for people participating in fundraiser events such as high school groups.
Councilman David Henke complained about some of the vagueness in details in the stoplight fundraiser ordinance. He also criticized Moore’s willingness to provide exceptions to the ordinance.
“We’re going to let school kids to do what we don’t let adults do?” Henke said after Monday’s meeting.
Council member Mary Olson said she considers the sign waving controversy to be a freedom of speech issue and asked the city to provide copies of the sign ordinance that Moore believes bans sign waving.
As the debate on the ordinance progressed, one man who works as a sign waver, asked council members if he should go to work today. He was later assured that he could.
A week ago, council debated the issue and sent it to the public safety committee, which reviewed the issue shortly before Monday’s council meeting. The committee sent it back to council without a recommendation.
Several council members last week said they didn’t think the sign provision should have been in the ordinance.
In passing the ban on stoplight fundraisers, the city joins Elkhart County and Goshen in prohibiting the activity.