Supervisors pause sign rule enforcement

Potential legal action threatened over yard signs

Supervisors pause sign rule enforcement

By Heather Michon, correspondent

County Attorney Fred Payne addressed a potential First Amendment legal challenge to Fluvanna County’s ordinances on the display of yard signs at Tuesday’s (July 2) Board of Supervisors meeting.

The ordinance allows yard signs to be displayed for up to 60 days before an event and 10 days after an event, such as an election.

Douglas R. McKusick, a senior staff attorney for The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, sent a four-page letter to the county June 26, saying the Institute had been asked by Dr. Elizabeth Alcorn “to review the constitutionality of Fluvanna’s sign regulations, which make content-based distinctions that result in limiting political speech in support of candidates.”

Alcorn, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) in Virginia’s 58th District, believes that Fluvanna’s ordinances are impairing her ability “to promote her candidacy and establish name recognition in her campaign.”

The letter, made available to the public on The Rutherford Institute’s website, went on to state that “in order to dispel the chilling effect imposed by the 60-day limit on the political speech of all candidates and their supporters,” they requested that the county not enforce the provisions ahead of the upcoming November election.

Payne did not mention either Alcorn or The Rutherford Institute in his comments. He said he believed “the case on which the argument is based is an exceptionally unusual case” and it was open for “fair discussion” as to whether it was applicable to Fluvanna’s current ordinance.

“On the other hand, it impresses me that the county has more to lose than it has to gain from litigating it,” he added.

In his assessment, the county’s options were to enforce the current ordinance, to repeal time limits on yard signs altogether, or to amend the existing ordinance to strike the specific 60-day language and say only that signs were permitted within “a reasonable time” prior to an event.

His recommendation was for the board to initiate the process of amending the ordinance, which would involve the Planning Commission soliciting staff recommendations and public hearings on any changes before coming back to the Board of Supervisors for a final public hearing and vote.

“In the meantime, I would suggest you authorize me and the zoning administrator to tell the person who is objecting that the provision in question is not going to be enforced against them while this proposal is pending,” he said. “I think that is only fair.”

Supervisors agreed to suspend enforcement of time limitations for temporary signs. They passed the motion to initiate an amendment to the ordinance on a vote of 5-0.

End of an era

“One last time,” Chair Mike Sheridan said as outgoing County Administrator Steve Nichols began his final county administrator’s report at the start of the meeting.

When the board reconvened after a dinner break, incoming County Administrator Eric Dahl took Nichols’ seat at the table. He read the lengthy certificate of commendation for Nichols’ seven years in office, listing his efforts “to improve service, efficiency and effectiveness” of county government.

“He continually reminded staff to be better tomorrow than we were today,” according to the commendation. The certificate also highlighted Nichols’ efforts to create opportunities for promotion and career advancement for staff.

Nichols was praised for his work on the James River and Zion Crossroads water projects, the E911 system, the Columbia Area Renewal Effort task force, and his work on increasing tourism, business and broadband within the county.

“Thank you for this opportunity,” Nichols said after rounds of handshakes, hugs and photographs with supervisors. “It has been amazing.”

Nichols’ last day was July 3 and he officially retired July 5, but the county isn’t done with him yet. In the final act of the evening, supervisors appointed him as project consultant for the James River water project to tap what Dahl called his “vast institutional knowledge” in meetings scheduled for later this year. The unpaid appointment runs through Dec. 31.

Other matters

Board members voted 5-0 on a number of agenda items during the meeting, including:

  • Revisions to the charter of the Economic Development and Tourism Advisory Council and the appointment of five new members.
  • New pay plan for the Department of Social Services for targeted pay increases not to exceed 10 percent per employee, with the county contributing $28,799 and accepting $29,977 in state and federal funds.
  • Two contracts totaling approximately $270,000 for the implementation of a new supervisory control and data acquisition computer system for the Zion Crossroads water and sewer project.
  • Multiple contracts totaling around $289,000 to Dewberry Engineering for the creation of a water and sewer master plan, an updated utility standards manual, an asset management plan, and a water and wastewater master plan.

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