City Council OKs citizen posse to remove unauthorized signs

Following a hardfought political primary season that saw major streets lined with hundreds of campaign signs, the Wichita City Council has decided to allow trained volunteers to remove unauthorized signs from city rights-of-way.

The council voted 6-1 to toughen its sign ordinance, authorizing fines starting at $50 and rising to as much as $1,000 per sign for repeat violations.

In addition to political signs, the rules would also apply to temporary garage-sale and real estate signs placed on public property or in the right-of-way between a city sidewalk and the street.

The city already bans temporary signs in the public right of way, but the Office of Central Inspection, tasked with enforcing the ban, complained that it is “inefficient, labor intensive, and achieves mixed results.”

“In an effort to address the negative impact of sign blight, OCI employees dedicate hours each week to removing signs illegally placed in the right of way,” according to an OCI staff report. “Despite OCI's best efforts, sign blight remains a problem throughout the city.”

To change that, the council authorized its department of Neighborhood Services and OCI to recruit and train volunteers to police signs.

The volunteers would be authorized to remove signs that violate the ordinance and either dispose of them or turn them over to city officials for possible prosecution.

Also, the changes to the sign code would remove a requirement that the city identify the person who actually placed a sign on city property before levying a fine.

Under the new code, a person or business named on a sign would be presumed to be responsible for its placement and liable to be fined.

The council passed the changes 6-1 with council member Michael O’Donnell in opposition.

Council member Janet Miller said the signs are a “rapidly multiplying nuisance.”

O’Donnell said he was concerned that in a negative campaign, someone could relocate signs from a legal site to get a competing candidate fined for unauthorized signs.

He said the new ordinance is “way too extreme, frankly.”

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting were divided on the new rules.

Several residents told the council that they think the signs are a blight on the city and should be removed.

“It’s ugly,” said James Roseborogh. “I would like this code enforced.”

Opponents said they think the new ordinance is too restrictive of free-speech rights and prevents people who can’t afford commercial advertising from getting out the message on their garage sales and lost pets.

“I look at commercial signs as clutter,” said Mike Wilson. “At least these signs can be removed and thrown in the trash.”