Robinson: City ‘asleep at the wheel’ on sign ordinance (Updated)

City residents have complained about the proliferation of political signs in the city’s right of ways. The city last week told Inweekly that a candidate had challenged the constitutionality of the temporary sign ordinance. The newspaper was told Grover Robinson was the candidate that complained about the ordinance.

Inweekly asked the mayoral candidate to explain why he did it.

Robinson said that when he began to place his campaign signs in April, he immediately began to receive calls from city code enforcement to pick up his signs that they had removed. However, other political signs were allowed to remain.

“When I asked city code enforcement why I was the only candidate whose signs were being removed, they told me they only respond to requesst from citizens on specific signs,” Robinson told Inweekly. However, city code enforcement told him that the vast majority of the reported signs are fine.

Robinson told Inweekly that the city officials said that the person calling in the complaints on him was a former city employee associated with a mayoral campaign.

There are two former city employees that were working on mayoral campaigns in April: Alan Gray with David Mayo and Derek Cosson with Drew Buchanan. Inweekly sent emails to both asking if they complained to city code enforcement about the placement of Robinson’s signs. Gray replied that he didn’t do it.

The newspaper asked the city about the complaints. City Public Information Officer Vernon Steward replied, “Derek Cosson was the one that made the initial 311 complaints about the signs.”

Cosson served as the city PIO and the mayor’s press secretary from 2011-2013. Ironically, he worked on the implementation of the city’s 311 service that allows citizens to inform city officials of problems. The photo on the left is of Cosson explaining the 311 phone app to Mayor Hayward and Councilwoman Sherri Myers.

Update: Cosson told Inweekly that he wouldn’t characterize his 311 calls as “complaining.” He said, “I used the 311 app to report several illegally placed campaign signs. I remain amazed that Grover chose to challenge the ordinance rather than simply complying with it. He is 100% to blame for the sign free for all we have right now.”

Update: The city provide this log of Cosson’s 311 calls – MX-6070N_20180807_120321.

Robinson was upset that the city was not applying its temporary sign ordinance uniformly to all candidates. He said, “Here code enforcement was telling me they were acting on the direction of one opponent to target another while leaving other non-compliant signs in place.”

He also knew that the city’s sign ordinance was unconstitutional because the county had specifically addressed the problem long in advance of the 2018 campaign season.

“This is another example of the city simply being asleep at the wheel,” said Robinson. “Not only that, they have now known of the unconstitutionality for nearly four months, and you have not heard the city administration or council address the problems.”

He continued, “In fact, if they had simply called the county, there was an easy template that could have restored the constitutionality of the ordinance. It would have also required a fair application to all candidates and not simply the ones being targeted.”

For that reason, Robinson sent an email to the city about constitutionality of the temporary sign ordinance, which made city staff have to rethink out it would handle political signs in the right of way.

The email, dated April 18, asked Code Enforcement Administrator Steve Richards to review with the city attorney the U. S. Supreme Court case Reed v. Gilbert. He attached a copy of it that county legal staff had provided him. See Code_Enforcement_Emails.

“As the ruling has been explained to me, many parts of your sign code are inconsistent with the ruling and therefore, unconstitutional,” wrote Robinson.

“Please understand it is not my intention to make this a public matter,” he continued. “However, you may want to contact my opponent or his team and make them aware that trampling people’s constitutional rights may not be the way to run a campaign.”

City PIO Stewart told Inweekly, “The Mayor has recently proposed a revision to the temporary sign regulations, and the Planning Board has retained the issue under its considerations for the past few weeks without forwarding a recommendation to the city council.”

The city has notified all local candidates for office that it will be enforcing the prohibitions of sec. 11-4-73 on all rights-of-way specified in that section, and they will be urged to voluntarily comply with the ordinance immediately.

“I will admit the city’s decision not to address the ordinance has led to a much more confusing signs all over,” said Robinson. “It is not the direction I would have taken if I were mayor. Again, my direction would be a constitutionally acceptable ordinance and city wide application to all candidates, not simply those targeted by political opponents.”