Lee sign ordinance approved

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Over the objections of some citizens who say it is unneeded and the threat of a lawsuit, the Lee County Commission finally approved a long-talked-about sign ordinance at its business meeting Tuesday night.

After discussing and finalizing a number of items that had been left incomplete by the ordinance's "architect," Southwest Georgia Regional Commission Planning Director Paul Forgey, commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that has been in the works for more than a year.

"Across Georgia, there are sign ordinances with flaws in them," Forgey said. "The one big flaw in Lee County's ordinance was a problem of content neutrality. You have been distinguishing signs based on what they say, and the (state) constitution says you can't do that."

"This new ordinance is as neutral as it can be. And it's not just some generic ordinance with no basis. We got input from a variety of shareholders, sign manufacturers, outdoor advertisers, business owners and operators, planning commissioners, citizens at public hearings and your county attorney, and used your comprehensive plan as a guide."

Commissioners were not in total agreement over the regulation of temporary signs, but they eventually voted 3-1 to allow temporary signs to be posted for 14 days, require that they be taken down three days after an event and require a fee "not to exceed $10."

Commissioner Rick Muggridge defended the need for a sign ordinance in the community.

"None of us ran for office to pass a sign ordinance," he said. "And in doing so, we make ourselves an easy target. But that's what good governments do. I also understand that some people consider this ordinance an infringement on their liberties, but some liberties need to be infringed upon."

"If we don't regulate the usage of signs in the community, we're backing up. If we want to continue to make this a community that businesses will want to come into, we have to come up with a workable ordinance."

Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said he favored requiring permits for temporary signs but not charging a fee.

However, Muggridge argued for requirements that would better regulate temporary sign usage.

Commissioner Dennis Roland sided with Muggridge, saying, "That's part of the cost of doing businesses."

Those two and Commissioner Betty Johnson voted for stricter requirements on temporary signs, while Commissioner Bill Williams voted against the measure.

Tim Nelson, an official with the local Libertarian Party who has objected to a number of items in the sign ordinance, has threatened to sue the commission over the ordinance if it passed. Nelson did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Commissioners also approved a retail beer and wine license for Brijesh Patel for his business at 1603 Philema Road South; a $49,469 supplemental agreement by which the state Department of Transportation will reimburse the county that amount for work on Haley Drive and approved Peek Pavement Markings' bid of $74,742.50 for off-system safety markings.

The county also agreed to name the county's recently completed animal control shelter the "Fifth Friday Foundation Animal Shelter" in honor of Dr. Phillip Hajek and his Fifth Friday Foundation, which donated more than $215,000 to the project, and approved a budget amendment that will allow the tax assessor's office to add a new employee.

Greg Crowder, chairman of the Sumter EMC Foundation, presented a $5,000 check to Lee County EMS Director Bobby Watkins for the purchase of three automated external defibrillators, which will be placed in the T. Page Tharpe Governmental Center, the county's tag office and at the county-owned Grand Island Club.

"One of the seven guiding principles that govern the way Sumter EMC operates is involvement in the communities we serve," Crowder said in a news release. "This project is a great example of how good things happen when people in a community work together for a common goal."

Muggridge called Sumter EMC a "phenomenal corporate citizen."