Store owner agrees to pay Cape sign fines

Thursday, August 2, 2007

To resolve his dispute with Cape Girardeau over a banner sign for his mattress store, Dennis McDonald on Wednesday agreed to pay $750 in fines. The agreement, which closed the books on three convictions for violating the city's sign ordinance, also ended city attempts to prosecute McDonald on six additional violations.

McDonald, owner of The Mattress Guys, 351 N. Kingshighway, isn't backing down from his belief the ordinance is being selectively enforced. But on advice of his attorney, Joy Ferguson, he's ending the legal battle.

"He would like to have pursued it further, but Dennis did the best thing for himself, his family and his business," Ferguson said after appearing with McDonald before Associate Circuit Judge Gary Kamp. "The place for that is not the courtroom."

Kamp handled the case, acting as municipal judge in place of Judge Teresa Bright-Pearson due to a conflict of interest. McDonald declined to remove the banner sign and spent five days in the city jail in June on Kamp's orders.

In the plea agreement approved Wednesday by Kamp, McDonald admitted violating his probation on the three violations that resulted in the jail time. Kamp ordered him to pay a $250 fine for each violation, gave him credit for the time served in the city jail and required him to pay jail boarding costs and court costs totaling $148.50.

McDonald was due in court today for a preliminary appearance on the six additional violations.

McDonald had suspended the banner sign to attract attention to his business, which is the back of the building on Kingshighway. The sign was suspended at the base of a 30-foot commercial sign McDonald leases to Lamar Advertising. It has since been replaced with a permanent sign.

Under city ordinances, a business may have a single banner sign mounted on the face of the building.

Paying the fine is irritating, McDonald said, and he contends other violations are going unpunished. "I am going to try to close my eyes as I go down Kingshighway," he said.

The city wasn't picking on McDonald, city prosecutor Reagan Holliday said. The city tries to be vigilant about enforcing the ordinance and every time a violation is noted, the business owners are asked to remove the offending sign, she said.

Banner signs are usually a temporary advertising tool, she said. And most businesses are quick to comply with the ordinance to avoid fines.

"His was not up for temporary purposes," she said. "It was up for a permanent purpose that made it easy to spot."

The police department's nuisance abatement officer, Ty Metzger, said he enforces the ordinance by responding to complaints and by noticing violating signs. When he sees a violation, Metzger said, he tries to give businesses an opportunity to comply before writing a citation.

"Usually we get cooperation within one or two days," he said.

The city has issued four or five other citations for violation of the sign ordinance since it was passed about a year ago.

"Our goal is we don't want to cite anybody," Holliday said.

The best path for McDonald and other business owners who object to the ordinance is to seek a change in the council or through the ballot box, Ferguson said.

That's not an easy path, McDonald said, and he's unsure whether he will pursue it. "It is so much time to go out and collect signatures," he said. "I've got to think about myself and my family."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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