"I'll tell you right now we didn't enforce the last sign ordinance we had, we tried at first, but then the signs started running amok again,” Alderwoman Sandy Osborn said.
A 2015 Supreme Court ruling is forcing the City of Camdenton to update its sign ordinance by adding changes to avoid content-based restrictions on free speech.
On June 18, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of “Reed, et al. vs. Town of Gilbert, Arizona,” determining when municipalities can impose content restrictions on signage.
According to a staff memo from City Administrator Jeff Hancock, the city of Gilbert’s sign ordinance imposed greater restrictions on signs advertising religious services than signs that displayed “political” or “ideological” messaging.
“The Supreme Court found that this ordinance did not pass strict scrutiny and was imposing content-based restrictions on free speech. This is illegal,” Hancock wrote. “Therefore, the City of Camdenton finds it necessary to revise our sign ordinance to be as content neutral as possible.”
Hancock said the intention of the updates was to bring the ordinance in line with Destination Camdenton, “and hopefully it will be more user friendly with the addition of the photos and Table 400.220.” City officials believe the court decision will have future repercussions, and the ordinance will likely need to be revised again.
Building Inspector Dennis Croxton recommended aldermen review the proposed changes to Section 400.220 Sign Regulations and vote to approve. On Aug. 8, 2017, the Camdenton Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.
Camdenton hosted a public hearing on Tuesday for the first reading and intends to hold the second reading at the next meeting on Sept. 19, 2017. There were no public comments during the public hearing, but one alderwoman took exception to the proposed changes.
“That’s a lot of words and a lot of regulations to communicate and educate. I’ll tell you right now we didn’t enforce the last sign ordinance we had, we tried at first, but then the signs started running amok again,” Alderwoman Sandy Osborn said. “I don’t want to have a big tool here especially if we’re not going to do anything with it and you’re going to drive the businesses crazy figuring out what is and isn’t allowed.”
Hancock responded that it wasn’t the city’s intent to single out any businesses or specific signage and hopes the ordinance will educate the public and businesses on what’s legal. The city administrator admitted that there are currently multiple violations against the ordinance already on the books.
“We want plenty of input; signs are one of the most difficult things in a community. If you have an ordinance and no enforcement, it’s not worth anything,” he said. “It’s very difficult to treat all signs content neutral, but that’s what the Supreme Court has said.”
City Attorney Phil Morgan, who worked on the ordinance with Croxton, said the building inspector was more comfortable cleaning up the current ordinance than starting from scratch, which the attorney had considered.
Morgan said the big thing for the city to consider is getting the ordinance as content-neutral as possible, despite the obvious differences in sizes, location and messages.
“You could write this 200 pages and try to imagine every situation, and I can go out and find one that doesn’t fit,” Morgan said. “If we start having trouble we can re-evaluate. This isn't going to be a perfect catch-all ordinance.”