West, Frazier upset over sign code enforcementPublished 12:11am Tuesday, April 24, 2012
NATCHEZ — Two candidates in next week’s city elections contend enforcement of the city’s campaign sign ordinance is unfair and inconsistent.
Mayoral candidate Phillip West and Ward 2 alderman candidate Billie Joe Frazier received hand-delivered letters Monday stating that they had campaign signs on Martin Luther King Jr. Street that are too big.
City code only allows for signs eight square feet or smaller.
The letter, signed by Willie B. Jones, who handles the city’s code enforcement in the planning department, says the planning department would remove any oversized signs still displayed after 5 p.m. Monday.
But West and Frazier said they posted the signs only after City Planner Bob Nix said in March that the city would not be enforcing the sign ordinance during campaign season.
Nix later said, at a board of aldermen meeting, that the city would in fact enforce the code, giving verbal and written notice to violators.
But West says he received no notice prior to Monday’s letter.
Nix said, however, that Jones had notified both West and Frazier of the violations verbally last week.
Frazier confirmed that he was contacted by the city.
“They got verbal notice and they didn’t react to it so we sent written notices,” Nix said. “They got more than the required notice.”
Nix said city crews would check on the signs today and remove them if they are still in violation.
But West said he has spoken with the property owners where his large signs are posted, and they don’t intend to have the signs removed.
“The property owners have said they aren’t authorizing any city employees on the property,” West said.
If city employees encounter trouble enforcing the law, Nix said, they would contact the police and pursue action through municipal court.
West said he had asked his attorney to contact Nix over the matter Monday and would pursue legal action against the city over the matter if necessary.
“There was no reason for me to think I was going to receive a letter today,” West said. “That has never been told to me, and it’s totally unfair. The city should have had everyone comply from the beginning, not be arbitrarily doing it based on complaints.
“I would not have invested money into something that I was going to have to tear down and destroy.”
West said other candidates clearly have signs posted in the rights of way and therefore in violation of the sign code all over town.
Nix confirmed that his office has been quite busy as of late enforcing the sign code and said that a number of candidates have had signs in violation, but that most have complied with requests to remove them.
In addition, Nix said he is happy to meet with candidates to answer questions about their sign placement, something he said he had done with Frazier.
“Mr. Frazier came down to my office and sat down with me, and we had a lengthy discussion about how he could use his oversized signs in a manner that is in compliance,” Nix said.
His advice to Frazier included checking county regulations and possibly hanging the signs in a high-trafficked area in the county.
Frazier said Monday night that he did plan to remove his oversized signs, but that he simply did not know the rules about signs before the election.
“Apparently someone dropped the ball,” Frazier said. “We should have been informed before we spent money on signs.”
Nix said all candidates who qualified before the deadline received a packet of information about the sign code. Frazier said he did not receive that package. (View Nix’s memo to candidates here).
Nix said the only other major concern with signs of which he is aware was resolved two weeks ago when Mayor Jake Middleton removed an oversized sign hanging on a downtown building.
“Generally candidates have been doing their best to comply,” Nix said. “I think they know what the code is and they have a decision to make as to whether or not they will abide by the code. They are running for public office and setting an example for everyone in the city.”
Nix did say that, after this election, he would like to revisit the sign code with the board of aldermen and loosen some of its restrictions to prevent another election debate like the current one.
And he acknowledged that it was a misunderstanding between himself and City Attorney Everett Sanders that led to some confusion early on about sign code enforcement.
But the board of aldermen requested, after that point, that the code be enforced, Nix said.
“We can’t just ignore our instructions from the board,” Nix said. “We are trying to bend over backwards to get everyone to comply, and these are our potential future bosses.”