Last year, Albany’s then-new planning director put together a group of government officials and community members, called it a task force, and – using the services of a high-priced consultant – put together a new sign code.
The new code, declared Planning and Development Services Director Howard Brown, was essentially the old code written to Constitutional standards. But this one – unlike the old one – was going to be vigorously enforced, said Brown and his boss, City Manager Alfred Lott.
But when the city began to enforce the law, its flaws surfaced quickly, and Lott directed his troops to selectively enforce the law.
Just like the old days.
Now, according to some sign task force members, Brown is up to his old tricks again. A new task force has been formed. But some of its members aren’t being allowed to vote.
“He’s not listening. He’s even saying in some cases that the only option available is the staff’s recommendation,” said restaurateur Bo Henry. “I’ve got a serious problem with that.”
Henry’s outcry earlier this year about some provisions in the new code helped convince some city commissioners to convince Lott to call off enforcement of some provisions of the new law. Now Henry has been denied a vote by Brown on the task force; Brown claims the businessman is an “alternate” on the task force and not a voting member.
Meanwhile, Tom Knighton said he volunteered to serve, but his offer wasn’t accepted.
“I was willing to put aside my personal biases for the betterment of the community,” Knighton said.
Nancy Brooks, who represents car dealers on the task force, said Brown not only is refusing to allow Henry and others to vote, Brown also has refused to allow the task force to decide whether streamers, pennants and balloons should be allowed at car lots. Currently, the city allows some car lot operators – but not others – to have the attention-grabbing displays,
“He says his data shows that streamers are a safety issue. He supposedly has evidence, but he hasn’t shown it to us,” said Brooks, who is collecting signatures of car dealers on a petition opposing Brown’s efforts to have the City Commission to prohibit the advertising devices. “That was the final issue for us. Every person in the car business is extremely concerned about this. They feel strongly that it will adversely affect their business.
“Streamers have been a staple in the car business for almost 100 years, and now (Brown) is saying that if you allow car dealers to do it, others will do it. No one other than car dealers have had streamers for 100 years. I doubt they are going to start now.”
Brooks said that Brown is “ram-rodding” restrictive sign code regulations past the task force when businesses’ concerns should be a top priority.
“I feel like in this economic time the city should be making it more friendly to survive, not make it more difficult,” she said. “They need to worry more about abandoned and dilapidated buildings and pure ugliness rather than forcing businesses to defend themselves when they are trying to survive.”
In an e-mail, Brown said Tuesday the sign ordinance task force is working productively. But Brown did not respond to questions about – among other things — how the task force was formed, why some task force members aren’t allowed to vote, and why his recommendations are the only options being considered in many instances.
The task force has met twice. It meets again at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Albany-Dougherty Government Center.
Written by Kevin Hogencamp.