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Friday, July 13, 2007

A confusing message is being sent about Cape Girardeau's stringent new sign ordinance.

At one extreme is a business owner who was sent to jail for five days of shock time because he ignored a judge's order to take down a banner sign -- the only sign informing the public of the whereabouts of his business. Banner signs are banned under the new ordinance except for some specific exceptions.

At the other extreme are the dozens of banner signs that continue to be displayed by Cape Girardeau businesses because, according to the city's inspection services director, there have been no complaints made about them.

The city's low-impact enforcement of the new sign ordinance -- responding to complaints -- means thousands of Cape Girardeau residents and visitors see illegal banner signs every day while someone is jailed not for violating the sign ordinance, but for getting on the wrong side of a judge. Meanwhile, city officials say they don't want to write citations for illegal banner signs and hope instead that businesses will comply with the new ordinance once they are informed of its provisions -- as most have.

The concern here is not about the new sign ordinance, which the city council adopted and then modified to make exceptions for things like real estate signs and garage-sale signs. The concern is the uneven enforcement of the ordinance when violations of the prohibition against banners are so flagrant and so visible.

It seems that it would be in the best interest of educating business owners and city residents to have the city inspectors follow up on any possible violations that are spotted without waiting for a formal complaint. Businesses could be informed by letter, a phone call or a personal visit about the new ordinance and its restrictions.

The result would be fewer banner signs in a city that is trying to improve its image.

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