ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore said Friday the city will begin issuing citations for sign wavers who stand in the public right-of-way.
In December following discussion spanning three meetings, Moore announced the city would warn stores about the new policy in January and would start enforcing the policy Feb. 1.
On Friday, the first day of February, representatives of four businesses said they had not received any warnings.
Moore said Friday that the city had not planned to send out letters because it didn’t have a list of stores that use sign wavers.
Instead, Moore said, he ordered the city police department to start issuing warnings if officers saw it happening during patrols. He said he was told by the department that no such potential violations had been seen.
Moore said a reminder was sent to the police chief Friday to begin writing tickets.
Kerri Wallace, who owns six Little Caesars Pizza stores with her husband, Dale, expressed disappointment with the decision. They have two stores within Elkhart city limits.
“We’re definitely going to abide by the new law,’ Wallace said.
Because of the configuration of a parking lot at one of their stores, though, Wallace said they would probably discontinue using sign wavers at one of the stores. As a result, she predicted it would affect the amount of work for some of her workers.
While some stores have used sign wavers less in recent weeks because of cold weather, Wallace said her stores had used them occasionally and that she’s seen sign wavers at other businesses in January.
“I don’t know where the police aren’t looking because I’ve seen them all over,” she said.
Brian Conwell, owner of Liberty Tax Service on C.R. 6, east of the airport, said he adjusted his policy Friday in anticipation of the change.
His employees stand along the road, but the only thing they’re waving are their hands. As of Friday, several signs, including one that points to the store, will remain out of sight.
“We think we can be effective by sending a costumed waver without a sign and stay within the letter and interpretation of the ordinance,” Conwell said.
The “wavers” still stand on the sidewalk, which typically falls within the right-of-way, but Conwell said he doesn’t think they would be in violation if they aren’t holding a sign.
“Our waver has every legal right to be on the sidewalk as any other pedestrian,” he said.
Employees at other stores said they had hoped the issue would be shelved.
Gerry Current, manager of Joe’s Gold on Bristol Street, said he has used sign wavers sparingly in recent weeks because of the weather.
He said he thought the mayor’s plans might change because of the level of opposition voiced by some council members and others.
Current said his store will continue to use sign wavers, but will stay off the public right-of-way, which he estimates is just a little further than where a sidewalk would be.
“Should we keep people off sidewalks because they might be hit by cars?” Current asked.
He echoed the same concern voiced by some council members that the city is now choosing to enforce an ordinance that’s existed for years.
“Why choose to enforce it now?” he asked.
Moore first sought to ban the practice all together by including a provision in a ban on stoplight fundraisers, saying he preferred businesses advertise through more traditional methods.
That led to criticism from some council members who expressed worry that some people would lose their jobs as a result if the ban was established and also suggested the debate boils down to a matter of free speech. The provision was removed before the stoplight ordinance was approved.
Moore then said that his legal staff had determined that existing language in the city’s sign ordinance already prohibited the practice and announced plans to begin enforcement.
Moore said language in the sign ordinance prohibit signs in the public right-of-way and said he doesn’t have a problem with the sign wavers as long as they stand further away from the road and outside of the right-of-way.
At Little Caesars, Wallace is hoping the city rethinks the policy.
Sign wavers account for a sizeable portion of Little Caesars sales — so much that the practice is part of the company’s national sales strategy.
The niche marketing effort was established because of what the company sees as “impulse sales,” Wallace said.
“What Mayor Moore needs to understand is that marketing tools have changed so much,” she said.