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Enforce banner ban or change the law

Brooksville City Council members have struggled with the task of creating and enforcing a sign ordinance for most of the 1990s. They appointed committees of residents and business owners and have waffled between endorsing and ignoring the committees' advice. Finally, the council adopted a sign ordinance that outlawed banners, except those that advertised a special event for a limited time.

The problem now is the city is not enforcing the ban on banners. Depending on who is making the excuse, the lack of enforcement could be because the law was poorly crafted and does not provide any meaningful deterrent. Or, it could be because the council and the police chief are more interested in coddling the handful of business owners who use the gaudy banners than they are in helping to create a more tasteful commercial atmosphere for the majority of city residents.

If the council is not going to enforce the law, it should stop paying lip service to it. The current game of cat-and-mouse that is going on between the code enforcement officer and the business owners who use the banners is a waste of everyone's time.

City Manager Richard Anderson attempted to crack down on violators of the sign ordinance about two years ago, but business owners who used the banners complained loudly to the council. That resulted in yet another committee making a recommendation the council ignored, which was to require business to get limited permits to fly the banners.

The city's lone code enforcement officer told the Times recently that she attempts to enforce the ordinance, but many businesses comply only for a short time and then rehang the banners. Others simply thumb their nose at the ordinance because they realize the city lacks the resolve to fine them or take them to court.

One problem could be that the code enforcement officer reports to the police chief. The city manager should supervise that employee. That way, if the codes are not being enforced, or enforced selectively, the responsibility rests with the person who is directly accountable to the council.

There is no question that banners, like billboards, are eyesores that contradict the image the city should be trying to project, which is to be a quaint, small town that is proud of its natural aesthetics. Banners blaring the availability of soda pop, cigarettes and early-bird specials are offensive to those who would rather savor the sight of an oak tree or a well-landscaped property. In addition, the banners are distracting to drivers.

Small cities that have carved a niche as a destination for visitors who want to shop, dine or go antiquing have succeeded because their elected leaders had the creativity to create that vision, and the courage to enact and consistently apply laws that complemented that vision. The present City Council has been shortsighted on both counts.

But even if the council is not willing to think about the long term, its members should be more honest with residents on the banner issue. Either enforce the law or take it off the books. The council can't have it both ways.

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