MARINETTE—Some people wear their heart on their sleeve; Wendell Myers put his feelings on his house.
During the fall presidential campaign season, Myers, a Marinette resident, made no secret that he was a proud supporter of President Donald Trump.
His house at 706 Main St. has scaffolding in the front and part way on one side. Plywood is attached to the scaffolding and political signs are attached to the plywood.
During the campaign season, Trump signs dominated the décor. Now, signs for candidates in the 89th District Assembly race are prominent. Numerous American and military flags round out the display.
When asked by an alderman at Tuesday’s City Council meeting if he lived in the 700 block of Main Street, Myers replied, “Yes, you can’t miss it.”
Election signs, like those displayed at Myers’ residence, were front and center at the meeting.
The council vote 8-1 to amend the portion of its Municipal Code that deals with election signs. The amended ordinance came as a recommendation from the Plan Commission.
Alderman Rick Polzin voted no.
City Attorney Robert Gagan said the Plan Commission used a state ordinance as a guide when drafting the city ordinance.
The amended rules allow for, “In addition to temporary signs otherwise allowed under this code, one additional temporary sign per choice regarding each issue and per candidate may be placed on any property during an ‘election year period’ as defined by state statutes.”
The ordinance also covers the size and amount of freestanding signs, wall signs and signs in business districts. It states election signs cannot be illuminated, must be at least five feet from any lot line and cannot be placed in the public right-of-way.
Alderman Doug Oitzinger questioned the enforcement of the existing sign ordinance during the November election cycle.
“Some of the controversy from the last election, where there were massive sign displays in a variety of places, for both candidates, were all in violation of the existing ordinance,” he said. “We haven’t been enforcing our ordinance.”
Mayor Steve Genisot pointed out that Building Inspector Curt Demlow issued more than 50 violation notices throughout the city for signs of candidates for both parties.
“Post election,” Oitzinger said. “My comment is, before the election we’re not enforcing our sign ordinance.”
He said with the elections coming up (primary Feb. 16 and spring election April 6), he’s worried about the inconsistency of enforcement.
Oitzinger said currently there are signs that are too big, signs in the tree lawn, and signs on public property and in right of ways.
“I’m fine with the amendment, I’ll support it,” he said. “But we’ve got to enforce it and we’ve got to start enforcing it starting tomorrow. Because after the fact, everybody’s feelings are hurt. Everybody gets outraged.”
Alderman Ken Keller, who pointed out his 26 years of public service, said he’s never seen as many signs in public right-of-ways as he does now.
“If they are in the public right-of-way, in years past, the DPW (Department of Public Works) took them right out,” he said. “I think we have to start doing something about it, otherwise this will continue in the next elections.”
Genisot reiterated that the building inspector has provided written notices, but flags and signs on buildings are not in violation, so long as they do not exceed the perimeter of the house and are not blocking windows or doorways. “I don’t want the council to feel that no action was taken by the building inspector,” he said.
Alderman Jason Flatt questioned why signs attached to buildings are not included in the number of allowed signs. “These are clearly political signs regardless of where they are attached,” he said.
Oitzinger asked if signs on buildings are restricted to 12 square feet and are they counted as one sign per candidate.
Gagan said they are not restricted to 12 square feet and they do not count as one sign per candidate.
“I think you’re focused on the ordinance and I think we need to talk about enforcement,” he said. “Take a look at what the property looks like and look at that situation and see whether it’s something that needs to be enforced or not”
While Genisot said, “I think rather than looking at individual properties, the council should vote on what they want for a sign ordinance.”
Flatt said there has been plenty of confusion on this issue.
“The building inspector, prior to the election, said that state statute forbids us from regulating the size of a free standing election sign, or the location,” he said. “This ordinance clearly seems to think we can do it again like we did before but then decided we couldn’t.
“I don’t see that this really solves any problem other than playing a shell game where we change a few words.”
Flatt said in another four years, the city will be in a similar situation with the building inspector saying that none of the ordinance is enforceable.
He said the building inspector has pointed out some items in the sign ordinance that are not legal, but remain in the ordinance. “That’s where I’m frustrated and confused,” Flatt said.
Genisot asked Flatt if he is recommending any changes to the ordinance.
“Yes, I’m recommending that it’s fixed,” Flatt said. “Apparently, if it is fixed, our building inspector doesn’t know it, or it isn’t actually fixed. I don’t know which it is.”
Also confused is Myers, the resident with the large sign display on Main Street.
Myers, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, speaking during public comment, said there are inconsistencies in how the sign ordinance is enforced. He said Demlow told him to remove his signs promptly after the election, which he did.
“The problem I see with this is, I didn’t see any other signs coming down,” Myers said. “I would like to know how many other (people) were contacted.”
He said he noticed Joe Biden signs and a desecrated American flag attached to city property—none of which came down until recently.
“I don’t care who you vote for,” Myers said. “I’m a Republican. I’m not going to hide it.”
Following the meeting, Myers said he’s still confused about the ordinance and he doesn’t believe anything was settled by the amendment.
“Problems don’t go way until you deal with the problem,” he said. “If you don’t deal with the problem you’re going to condone it. If you condone it, you are the problem.”
Regarding the signs on his home, Myers said he put them up during the campaign to support Trump. He said he found that the Democrats whom he liked were hypocritical. He said Trump is a man of his word who can’t be bought off.
Myers said he now welcomes signs from any candidate and any party. “They can put them up and fight it out,” he said.