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Greenfield Community Center Sign Gets New Life

By changing the definition of "public signs" the city created its own loophole to allow off-premises advertising in some instances.

For the better part of a year, Greenfield Parks and Recreation Director Scott Jaquish has been asked to get creative when it comes to making the city’s new run like a self-sufficient business.

On Tuesday at City Hall, the city got a little creative itself to lend Jaquish a hand.

The Common Council voted 4-1 in favor of amending the municipal code to define the term “public sign.” The decision was in response to Jaquish’s proposal to allow Clear Channel construct, install and pay for the upkeep of a monument-style electronic reader board sign outside the Community Center.

In exchange for the sign, Clear Channel would enter into a 20-year lease with the city, agreeing to maintain the sign and pay approximately $12,000 per year to use the sign for off-premises advertising. The proposal, however, because off-premises advertising is prohibited by the city’s sign code ordinance.

After Tuesday, it still is, but with exceptions that will allow the Community Center sign and others potentially like it to be erected.

Now, by definition, a public sign is one that is located or placed upon a municipal- or governmental-owned property where a government or municipal building is present and the governmental entity or municipality is either the owner of the sign or has an ownership interest by means of a lease or other contractual relationship.

In addition, the public sign shall be used for the display of public service announcements for the community in addition to general advertising messages.

In the case of the proposed sign outside the Community Center, the reader board will cycle through as many as eight different screens, one that will be used for community messages and seven that will display advertising.

“Things are not going to get easier,” Mayor Michael Neitzke said. “The last three budgets, money is tight. Levy limits are clearly in place for at least one year, probably three more years. I share concerns, but if advertising is done tastefully and it helps support the taxpayers and provide good things for them, it’s probably the right thing to do.”

“We wanted a way to approve (the Community Center sign) so our Community Center could benefit, so our citizens could benefit,” Alderperson Linda Lubotsky said. “The Park (and Rec) Board has spent hours, days weeks, months trying to find a way to do this. We found a way … We can sit here all night discussing the what ifs, but this is a win-win for the city.”

The Common Council debated the amendment for nearly 45 minutes, weighing the financial benefits to the city, specifically the Community Center, against potential, unforeseen issues that could arise.

One concern several alderpersons raised was potential political advertising or “questionable” advertising. Mark Rausch of Clear Channel assured his company would not allow such advertising and that it would not allow issue advocacy advertisements, but that doesn’t mean another company would abide by a similar decency policy.

“It’s one thing that Clear Channel and us are on the same page and they are willing to follow through on their own standards which we agree with,” City Attorney Roger Pyzyk said. “But it’s another thing if a competitor comes in and says we don’t think the same way as Clear Channel. We have our own standards.”

Alderperson Karl Kastner, , cast the only dissenting vote. He doesn’t want to see these mini-billboards or signs popping up at every possible location.

“I don’t like the can of worms we’re opening up here,” Kastner said. “It could get uglier than this. … I can’t see us selling out the city for advertising.”

Kastner also asked why the city wouldn’t go out for bids for such a sign, instead of simply handing the agreement to Clear Channel, which the city has an established relationship. The I-894 digital billboard located in the yard is Clear Channel’s.

Clear Channel’s Community Center sign proposal has to go back in front of the Park and Recreation Board and return to the Common Council for approval.

“I guess I feel there is some sense of ownership,” Rausch said. “We did put the whole thing together at the request of the city, and now you say you want to take what we put together and shop it around to our competitors?”

Joe Greenfield January 18, 2012 at 06:30 PM
In the last article it was written there would be 7 screens, 1 of which would be for the Community Center, now it's 8 screens and only 1 for the Community Center. So realistically, I could drive by 6 or 7 times and not even see the ad for the Center. While Mr. Rausch may feel some ownership of the plan, I think it would still be in the city's best interest to shop around if this is to go through. If someone came to my house and offered me a deal on new windows, I would still call around to make sure I'm getting the best deal I can.
Craig Manske January 18, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I see no problem with the advertising. It brings in revenue without raising property taxes. But I agree with Joe Greenfield. There shouldn't be a 1 in 8 chance that I'll see community center info.
robert heule January 19, 2012 at 05:45 PM
The promotion of the Community Center should be the top priority. If the city has control of the content, it could amount to government censorship. I am one of Greenfield's staunchest supporters of the First Amendment, which brings me to be concerned about terms such as "questionable" which is totally ambiguous. Who is to determine what that word means in the context of advertising?, the government? a church? a Democrat, a Republican, the Tea Party or any other group or individual?. Thousands of cars go by that intersection daily, If a driver gets upset over the content of the sign, he or she has no right to be operating a motor vehicle at that time. I witnessed that last last winter when a guy angrily whipped through the intersection after witnessing a peaceful protest in front city hall. As far as political advertising, concerned, what the heck is the difference as long as it is paid for. The disclaimer would be that the City of Greenfield has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Besides it may create some interesting "social dialog" which I would enjoy observing. Last month, I wrote in Patch the question of whether Clear Channel would be acting in the capacity of a media or an advertising agency. I believe that Clear Channel owns radio stations around the country including WISN. Is this statement expressed or implied? You all may guess.
Joe Greenfield January 19, 2012 at 06:33 PM
As a next step, maybe the City can start looking at advertising space on our police squad cars, fire engines and ambulances. Besides Clear Channel, I'm sure lawyers, assisted living centers and others would be interested. Can we change the ordinances so homeowners can lease out signs for advertisements too? Times are tough for us as well and we could use the extra income.
Mark Hochschild January 20, 2012 at 08:21 PM
One out of seven or eight would work even better if that one "city" message is repeated after every four of the other messages. As far as revenue production, schools are doing it but not on street-side signs but signing in gymnasiums, baseball and softball fields for items the tax roll can no longer afford to finance.

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