Sign ordinance raises questions

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 18, 2002

Brookhaven officials may have to revisit a new ordinance that ineffect prohibits distribution of a long-time local publication andcould impact future political campaign activities.

The new law, approved during the Jan. 2 city board meeting,makes it unlawful to distribute or place handbills, cards,circulars, placards or other advertising matter on automobiles,streets, sidewalks and other public places in the city. The lawmakes an exception for postal service-delivered material andnewspapers.

Under ordinance guidelines, distribution of the Buyer’s Guide, afree advertising publication for more than 30 years in Brookhaven,would be prohibited because it does not meet the definition of anewspaper and does not have an annual subscription rate. Whencontacted Thursday, Publisher Allen Morgan said he was unaware ofthe new law but added he would continue business as usual.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I’m going to take care of my readers,” Morgan said.

Morgan indicated the new law’s impact on his publication mayhave been an oversight. If there had been problems in the past, hebelieves city officials would have notified him.

“I’m going to continue until an official tells me otherwise,”Morgan said.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said the Buyer’s Guide issue was a”good question.” He said the ordinance, proposed by former aldermanJohn Roberts, was directed toward prohibiting handbills and signageon public rights of way and he did not have an answer for theBuyer’s Guide situation.

“It’s just another dilemma the new ordinance poses,” Fernaldsaid.

Fernald also mentioned concerns about political campaignsigns.

The attorney said First Amendment issues could be raised andindicated possible enforcement problems with some types ofcampaigns. He expected the issue and how to resolve it could comeup again the next time there is an election involving the city.

“It may be we have to look at it again,” Fernald said inresponse to the Buyer’s Guide and political sign questions.

Fernald said it is clear the ordinance prohibits political andother signs from public rights of way. It does not address signs onprivate property.

“What’s done on private property, we have no control over that,”Fernald said.

Regarding the Buyer’s Guide, Fernald said he knew of nocomplaints that the city had received. He said the ordinance wasaimed at reducing loose litter, whereas the publication istightly-wrapped and often tossed into driveways.

“I believe the city would have a lot of complaints if theystopped our distribution,” Morgan said.

Bill Jacobs, Daily Leader publisher, said the new ordinance doesnot affect that newspaper or its other publication.

“We go to the additional expense to mail all copies of our freedistribution publication, the Southwest Mississippi Marketplace, toavoid the possibility of unwanted copies being an eyesore along thecity’s neighborhoods,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs was supportive of the city’s intentions with the new lawbut also sympathetic to the situation it puts his competitorin.

“No doubt unwanted circulars and advertising material laying inthe gutters and sidewalks is an eyesore that has become more of aproblem in recent years, but a solution needs to be found,” Jacobssaid. “I do not know if the city’s intention was to stop the homedelivery of advertising circulars or if they just made a mistake,but I urge the city board to review the new ordinance and find away for the Buyer’s Guide to continue to operate.”