Sign changes OK’d

The third and final reading of the a proposed sign ordinance that would regulate how long political signs could be placed on properties around Webster City as well as limiting the number and size of those signs was approved by the City Council Monday night. The ordinance was passed and adopted, with four council members voting in favor. Mayor Janet Adams was not present at the meeting.

“Bottom line is, this makes changes to the amount of time campaign signs can be up,” said City Manager Ed Sadler. “It does extend the time. It starts including caucuses, it extends the time between primary and general elections.”

“Basically those are the key things – it gives more time to display the signs, but does address the size and total square footage of signage,” he said.

Earlier Monday, local political consultant Roger Hughes delivered an Iowa Open Records Law request to the City Council to view the legal opinion issued by City Attorney Gary Grove concerning the political sign issue. Hughes, who provided a copy of the request to the Daily Freeman-Journal, said in the document that he wished to obtain copies of Groves’ “opinion to the council that they can violate the Supreme Court opinion authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Conner.”

Groves said he gave the City Council an opinion some time ago which served as the basis for the action on the ordinance.

“Someone, maybe Roger (Hughes), made a reference to a specific Supreme Court case and in fairness to that I thought we needed to review that case and look at any and all other cases that might be relevant to it,” he said. “I did that and that was the basis of my opinion.”

Groves said he believed his opinion was a confidential attorney-client document with the City Council, but that privilege could be waived if the council chose to do so.

“I can’t give the public the opinion because it’s to you, but you can waive that privilege,” Groves said. “That’s up to you folks.”

The council members agreed to release the opinion to Hughes.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jerry Kloberdanz recognized Hughes in the audience and asked if he had any questions or comments.

Hughes said if the ordinance passed, there was legal counsel was ready to “take the matter into court to prove it is unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit.” He added that there were groups with differing philosophical ideas who would back such a court case.

In an Aug. 8, 2012 letter to the editor published in the Daily Freeman-Journal, Hughes asserted that “Political signs are a protected form of speech under the U. S. Constitution. A 1994 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared a Missouri city law prohibiting signs at private residences unconstitutional.”

He went on to say, “This practice of banning political signs has been abandoned by most Iowa county and municipal jurisdictions as they understand that a citizen has the right to put up a sign 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year whenever they want.

Groves said he believed the case cited by Hughes was “apples to oranges.”

“That case talked about no freedom of speech could be allowed by the city on private, individual property. That, of course, is a violation of the amendment on free speech. There’s no question about that,” Groves said.

“But that case also went onto say that the city also has certain police powers of regulation. You can’t abridge or restrict the freedom of speech but you can regulate it.”

“We’ve discussed that several times and that’s the basis for the opinion,” Groves said.

Budget approved

The City Council unanimously approved the 2013-2014 city operating budget Monday night. Sadler spent some time detailing many aspects of his proposed budget and discussed some of the items that were cut or held to the same levels as the previous budget.

Sadler said that while there had been some utility rate increases in the past few years, the utilities are now in “good shape.”

“We can afford to spend for the capital improvements that are needed, especially at water and waste water,” he said. “It’s going to be a measured approach, but we can afford to make the improvements we need to do to not end up with violations for water and waste water.”

He said the city is approaching the completion of the new city well.

“We will have a new well and will be assured of having a good water supply for a long time,” he said.

“As far as the general fund operating budget, we had to make several cuts,” he said.

Sadler said the support for the Chamber of Commerce would be reduced to $20,000, the same amount awarded six years ago. In the past several years, the amount was raised to $30,000 in an attempt to attract new members and to increase efforts in attracting new business. The chamber has also received Hotel/Motel tax funds to assist in their marketing efforts.

“With cutbacks to almost all city programs over the last four years, the time has come to look at cutting back on the outside programs it assists,” Sadler said.

Social service requests from agencies like Youth and Family Center and others would be held to the current level of funding, Sadler recommended.

Police operational expenses were proposed to be cut by $12,350, fire department expenses were cut by $4,000 and Sadler recommended parks and recreation expenses be cut by $5,000.

Sadler also addressed the senior citizens center.

“First, although there appears to have been substantial discussion on the topic, there has been no plan that has surfaced and been presented to City Council that addresses the request to generate revenue for the facility,” Sadler said in a memo to the council.

“We’re recommending a cut of about $7,000 for the senior center. This is an extension of what we discussed last year,” said Sadler. “There’s no money from those who use the facility. There is from those who rent it for birthday parties, Congregate Meals and RSVP.

“It’s not meant to close (the center), it is meant to give them about two-thirds of the money. But if they don’t manage to raise funds somehow, then sometime after January, it will be forced to close because it will run out of money,” he said.

At that point, Sadler said, it would have to be decided whether to sell the building or repurpose it.