Home tour sign removal sparks Cape ordinance debate

Friday, December 2, 2011

Melody Anderson returned from her Thanksgiving trip to Kentucky on Saturday and noticed it at once -- the signs were gone.

With less than a week until the Lutheran Family and Children's Services holiday home tour, the 15 or so 2-by-2-foot signs she had put up around town to promote the fundraiser had been removed without warning.

"I was fuming," said Anderson, the regional development director for the southeast office of the not-for-profit organization that relies on the annual event to generate as much as $25,000 each year.

Anderson learned that the signs had been taken down by the Cape Girardeau Police Department for being in public right of way along high-profile streets such as Kingshighway and Mount Auburn Road. City officials told her the signs were a violation of the municipal sign ordinance, which prohibits such signage on public right of way.

Anderson said Thursday she understands the intent of the sign ordinance is to make sure signs don't clutter up city thoroughfares or block a driver's line of sight.

"I just think it's getting very petty," Anderson said. "They should be enforcing the rules to protect people. To me, this is bullying."

Especially, she said, because of the organization's mission -- providing adoption services, counseling for "crisis pregnancies" and offering adult services for those with early memory loss.

"I'm not having a garage sale," Anderson said. "I'm not raising money for myself. We're trying to benefit the community."

Anderson called her councilwoman, Kathy Swan, Mayor Harry Rediger and the city's inspection services department. She also went to the police department, retrieved the signs and put them back up. Swan advised her to put the signs as far back from the road as possible to ensure that they weren't on the right of way.

Anderson also noted she had placed her signs in the exact spot where the city had just earlier in the month had its signs promoting its spaghetti day event to raise money for the Parks and Recreation Department.

Swan said she was aware of the inconsistencies in enforcement.

"I know that we need to get our own house in order with how we do things," Swan said.

Swan also said she wouldn't oppose taking another look at portions of the sign ordinance. Anderson plans to make her concerns public at Monday's Cape Girardeau City Council meeting.

Rediger said enforcement in years past has been lax and that he wants the city to enforce its ordinances. He also wouldn't be opposed to looking at specific parts of the sign ordinance to see if they need to be modified. He is not, he said, interested in overhauling the relatively new ordinance that regulates the size, type and location of signs in the city.

Tim Morgan, the city's inspection services director, said the city within the last three or four months had changed the policy on how municipal departments put up signs promoting their events.

Historically, the parks department "has kind of done their own thing with signs," Morgan said. "But all signs are now supposed to come through this department. It's been a policy for months, but getting the word around to everybody is taking a little time."

As for Anderson, she's still planning for the tour that takes place Saturday. She has been monitoring the signs and, so far, they haven't been taken down again.

"They've stayed put because I caused a problem and ruffled some feathers," Anderson said. "I understand there's a reason for the ordinance, but let's not be ridiculous. What we were doing wasn't causing any problems."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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