The Lincoln City City Council voted to pass new language added to a sign ordinance Monday in a special session. Mayor Don Williams was the sole no vote, which made the passing of the motion non-unanimous and set for a second reading at the Oct. 8 regular City Council meeting.
At issue was the constitutionality of the sign ordinance and the City wanting to declare an emergency so the new language would “clarify content neutrality” and be effective immediately.
Lincoln City property owner Jim Hoover spoke at the special session and told the council he didn’t believe this qualified as an emergency.
Hoover said he thought declaring this issue an emergency was “a misrepresentation of the process …” He also said because the City went about trying to pass the ordinance with new language and declaring it an emergency, it circumvents Oregon Revised Statutes, which allow for the public to have 30 days to gather signatures and bring it to a vote.
Williams spoke at length against declaring an emergency, saying he didn’t believe it qualified. After speaking to many people over the past week, Williams said he shared concerns about the idea of declaring an emergency. Williams read from two documents that discussed what a city should and shouldn’t do pertaining to signs.
“I don’t see how any of this rises to the level of an emergency.” Williams said.
City Attorney Richard Appicello said he took language from the International Municipal Lawyers Association and reworked existing Lincoln City ordinance language to make it more content neutral.
Appicello argued that it was an emergency, “…when you have problems with your ordinance that people are alleging are constitutional deficiencies.”
“The problem with our sign ordinance is it says the definition of a temporary political sign includes a discussion of the content and it says the content has to concern a candidate on this election or a measure on this election. That’s the problem,” Appicello said. “Because if you want to put up a sign in your yard that says I like beer or whatever it is you want to talk about, you’re discriminated against by that content-based language.”
City Manager Ronald Chandler told the Council he had been through many elections. He said he received requests from various candidates to enforce the sign ordinance.
“It’s always a difficult position for staff to be in because we don’t want to become a factor in the election,” he said. “As I became aware that there was a problem with our ordinances, I talked with [staff] and we found there was some validity to the concerns that were expressed on these ordinances. So I authorized Mr. Appicello to go forward and put this together.”
“I think we can make a pretty fair case that this constitutes what would be an emergency to put this on a fast track so it can be dealt with.”
Williams responded to Chandler with: “We have many more issues that rise to the level of an emergency in this city right now than this.”
“People can certainly hear that there’s no sign regulations in Lincoln City, let’s go nuts,” Appicello said. “I’m not kidding, that’s where the public health and the threat to the public safety is. That people are just going to think there are no rules, just do whatever you want. And that could be signs out there in the clear vision area and signs in the right-a-way and you know, cats and dogs living together, fire and brimstone, end-of-the-world type stuff.”
“I always quote Bill Murray whenever possible,” said Appicello to the laughter of the Council.
The ordinance was amended to remove the emergency declaration, and a second reading will take place at the next Council meeting Oct. 8, where it would take effect 30 days after its adoption.
Councilors Dick Anderson, Judy Casper, Riley Hoagland and Susan Wahlke voted yes to approve first reading. Williams voted no. The motion passed, 4-1.
At the end of the special session, Anderson said the Council had been challenged with another ethics complaint. The council passed a motion unanimously to release executive session recordings to lawyers and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
Councilor Diana Hinton was not in attendance.