By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously to advertise Jan. 23 as the date of adoption of the proposed revision-heavy sign ordinance.
That 5-0 vote, one of several on the evening of Jan. 9, came before a packed crowd at City Hall, as the business owners whose input helped craft the revised ordinance turned out in force as a show of support. The new ordinance is basically restriction-free (aside from compliance with state laws) and it does away with most if not all the complicated rules and regulations of the previous ordinance, which has been in effect since 2009, while still leaving intact provisions to ensure traffic safety, safe installation and proper maintenance. Almost every other facet of the old ordinance, barring a late re-inclusion of requirements for a permitting process and the associated fines, was altered in some way or removed in favor of streamlining and simplifying the ordinance as a whole.
However, while the councilmen did vote unanimously in favor of moving forward with the new ordinance, the sudden freedom from most restrictions on signage was a matter of concern for some.
“I am in favor of probably 90 percent of the sign ordinance,” said Councilman Ron Kelley. “I am concerned that we have absolutely no restrictions on signs whatsoever, not that I’m concerned about any of the businesses we have in town here today or any of the businesses who took part in the committee. I think everybody will conduct themselves and their business in a reasonable manner in a way that will not offend any of us, but I can tell you that the day is coming when we will encounter somebody who does not. When that day arrives we have no mechanism in place, whatsoever, to deal with it.”
Despite his concern, Kelley said that would not stop him from throwing in his support for the revised ordinance. Though Sign Ordinance Committee Chairman Art Dees said the ordinance’s nuisance provisions were intended to act as a buffer against abuses of the new freedoms in signage, City Attorney Clayton Adkinson said those provisions would not enable the Council to stop someone from putting up “a 500-square-foot sign” if they so wanted, given the lack of restrictions in the new document. Councilman Mac Work clarified that, although this was true, the Council could call for changes to be made to the ordinance at any time should the lack of regulation become a problem for the city or its residents.
Another long-discussed item also moved closer to closure at the meeting. The Council, city manager candidates’ background checks in hand, voted to hold a special meeting Friday, Jan. 13 for the purpose of conducting interviews and/or hire one of the four finalists. The meeting will be held at City Hall at 1 p.m., which, for those keeping track of the string of superstitions, can also be represented as 1,300 hours.
Planning Department employee Loretta Laird, who has served as acting city clerk for the past several months, also got a raise courtesy of another unanimous vote from the Council. Councilman Kermit Wright proposed that the $4,160 budgeted for the clerk position be divided up and added to Laird’s salary and made a motion to that effect, as Laird took on the job of keeping minutes at approximately 35 yearly Council meetings. Laird’s salary was adjusted to the tune of $1.74 extra per hour to reflect the duties and responsibilities of the city clerk position with the salary change to take effect at the start of the next pay period.
The Council also voted 5-0 in favor of finalizing its five-member Airport Advisory Committee and also voted unanimously to approve the rules and responsibilities of the panel. The new committee will meet at City Hall once per month and all meetings will be a matter of public record, though it has no authority to take action, make purchases or enter into an agreement with any third party on behalf of the city. However, the committee will have input regarding airport events and construction, expansion and continued development at the airport and it will make recommendations to the Council as such.
The unanimous votes continued, as the Council voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of the 2011-2012 Capital Improvement Schedule as presented by Planning Director Greg Scoville, with the date of the public hearing set for Jan. 23, and the board members also voted 5-0 to reject bids for uniform services upon the recommendation of Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway. The city received only two bids and one did not meet specifications, Holloway told the Council, with the hope being that a more affordable bid could be found. Finally, the Council voted 5-0 against abandoning a 592-by-75-foot strip of roadway on Wabash Avenue, as it was city staff’s recommendation that possible future maintenance issues could arise with the water system, which is connected to nearby streets.