Less than 24 hours after East Ridge codes enforcement officials told a man that he was required to purchase a permit for his temporary sign advocating for a referendum which would allow liquor stores to operate within the city, officials have reversed the decision.
Earl Wilson, who for the better part of two weeks has been at the corner of Ringgold Road and Keeble Street soliciting signatures for a petition to get a liquor store referendum on the November ballot, said he got a call from City Manager Chris Dorsey Friday evening.
“Mr. Dorsey said the city had made a mistake,” Wilson said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “He (Dorsey) said that my sign fell under chapter 20 which is the political sign ordinance.”
In a telephone interview Monday morning, Dorsey said that he is “backing codes up” on the action they took. Permits are required for temporary commercial signs. But, he began digging into the sign ordinance (Chapter 14) only to discover an entirely different ordinance (Chapter 20) that deals with political signs.
Dorsey said that the political sign ordinance deals with campaign signs by candidates and also signs that advocate for or against a proposal appearing on the ballot. Wilson’s cause – advocating for a referendum allowing liquor stores in the city – is not on any ballot.
“In my opinion, (Wilson’s) sign is going in that direction,” Dorsey said. “So, I deemed it a political sign.”
Dorsey was quick to defend Code Enforcement Supervisor Sarah Stageberg’s action for requiring Wilson to get a permit for his sign.
“They (Stageberg and code officer Chris Gilbert) interpreted what they thought was correct,” Dorsey said.
Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer, who was out of town last Friday when codes officials visited Wilson to inform him that a permit would be required for his sign, said that he has been the city official who exclusively deals with enforcing the rules of political signs.
“Staff doesn’t deal with political signs because they are a ‘hot potato,'” Custer said Monday.
He said that Wilson will be refunded the $37.50 he paid for the permit on Friday. The amount is half what is normally charged, as the time period Wilson would have displayed the sign is about a month.
Custer said the enforcement action on Friday was the result of Stageberg and Gilbert riding down Ringgold Road and seeing Wilson’s sign, not the result of any resident’s complaint. They then stopped and informed Wilson that he would need a temporary commercial sign permit. Custer said as Wilson serves on several city boards the codes officers didn’t want anyone to get the impression that he was receiving any kind of favoritism.
Meanwhile, Wilson said he’s taking a break from the heat in collecting signatures at the Ringgold Road location on Monday. He said he’s got about 400 of the 705 signatures needed for the referendum to be placed on the November ballot. Wilson’s deadline for getting the signatures to the Hamilton County Election Commission is Aug. 19.
“I’m confident that we will get the required number of signatures and the voters will vote in favor of it in November.”