Valdosta Daily Times

December 14, 2012

Council passes sign ordinance amendments

Ethics code tabled until January

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta City Council moved through a long agenda of action items quickly Thursday night with the exception of about 15 minutes spent hearing an audience member who proposed further changes to the sign ordinance already listed on the agenda for text amendments.

The numerous text amendments, which the Council unanimously approved, represent a relaxation of certain sign standards as well as adding “much-needed clarity” to the ordinance, in the words of Planning and Zoning Administrator Matt Martin.

Before the Council took action, Terry Harkins, general manager of Fairway Outdoor Advertising, a sign and billboard company that will be affected by the amendments, approached the Council to speak in favor of the text amendments.

However, the Council was confused when Harkins suggested that one amendment be further changed to allow sign-builders to retain ownership of their rights to private land if their signs are removed, a change to the ordinance that was not previously discussed with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Harkins said it would help the sign advertising market retain its assets if competing companies had no way to move in and construct signs once a sign is taken down. In a sense, property owners would not have the option to lease their property with another sign company.

In addition to City Attorney George Talley’s concern that Harkins' proposed change was not reviewed by Planning and Zoning, City Manager Larry Hanson had doubts regarding the proposal.

“My concern is that if anyone removes the board, you’re telling the property owners they can’t do something that they have a right to do,” Hanson said.

After Harkins spent about 15 minutes arguing his case, Mayor John Gayle asked him to take his seat and prompted a motion from the Council, which passed the proposed amendments (without Harkins’ changes) with a unanimous vote.

Council unanimously voted to table the proposed amendments to the City of Valdosta Ethics Ordinance until January’s meeting to give City Council time to further consider the changes, as discussed in Tuesday’s work session. The city will retain its current ethics ordinance until the amendments are passed, Talley said.

But City Council unanimously agreed to sign a resolution to participate in the Georgia Municipal Association’s Certified City of Ethics Program, essentially a promise that the city will at some point adopt an ethics ordinance.

Before the start of the meeting, Gayle and representatives from parade co-sponsor Ossipe Temple announced the winners of the 2012 Greater Valdosta Community Christmas Parade awards. Third place went to American Cancer Society Relay for Life; second was awarded to the Filipino-American Association of South Georgia; and Smith Drug Company took first place.

The Council also approved:

• the rezoning of .68 acres at 1404 Gornto Road from Neighborhood-Commercial to Community-Commercial, unanimously.

• the rezoning of 15.04 acres at 225 Norman Drive from Single-Family Residential to Highway-Commercial, unanimously.

• a request from the Valdosta-Lowndes County Airport Authority to approve a resolution authorizing the execution of a contract with the Georgia Department of Transportation to conduct a Wildlife Hazard Assessment Study at the Valdosta Regional Airport, unanimously.

• a Memorandum of Agreement for the Valdosta Fire Department to participate with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to provide mutual aid during natural disasters, unanimously.

• a contract with the Georgia Department of Transportation for maintenance of state highway routes within the City of Valdosta, 6-1 with Councilman Robert Yost voting against.

• the low bid of Phase 2 of the Sidewalk Installation Project in the amount of $568,399.80, unanimously. The low bid exceeded City Engineering’s estimate of $514,000.

• the purchase of uniforms for the VFD and chemicals for city water treatment, unanimously.

• the purchase of a temporary bar screen to be installed at the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, unanimously.

• a request from the VFD to accept state property for firefighting, unanimously.

• a request for a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Valdosta Main Street Program and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, unanimously.

At the end of the meeting, Hanson delivered a message of thanks to Police Chief Frank Simons, who will retire Jan. 1.

“Thank you for accepting the challenge,” Hanson said. “We will be forever appreciative of your service. You’ve never let us down.”

Simons approached City Council with a message of thanks, expressing he always felt he could trust the mayor and council.

“Our successes could not have come about without the mayor and council,” Simons said. “This is a bittersweet moment for me, as well. This is all I’ve ever really done.”