They’re not teaching them to be shy
This year’s crop of seniors who joined Blaine legislators and staff for a day to learn how city government works weren’t shy. Questioning from students sent planning staff back to the drawing board on an extension that seemed poised to be rubber-stamped by council.
At the October 25 city council meeting community economic and development director Terry Galvin asked council to give owners of signs that don’t conform to the city’s sign guidelines two more years to bring them up to code. The sign guidelines, adopted in 1999, gave the owners of non-conforming signs five years to replace them with signs that met the turn-of-the century guidelines. That grace period expires next month. “There are still 25 signs out there that don’t conform and we haven’t given them enough notice,” Galvin said.
Student Alex Abrams, paired with council member Mike Myers, wanted to know why. “Why has nothing happened over the last five years?” he said. “It seems like adequate time.”
“Staff incompetence,” Galvin quipped. “They shouldn’t suffer for an error I made. We don’t think significant harm will be done by the extension.” City manager Gary Tomsic defended Galvin’s inaction on the 25 remaining signs, saying he had targeted the most visible non-conforming signs, especially from closed businesses such as Payless Shoes, Denny’s and Northwoods Motel. “He targeted the most visible problems,” Tomsic said.
Tiffany Oakley, finance manager Meredith Riley’s student counterpart, asked how the two extra years would do what the last five had not. “How do you plan on notifying them this time?” she asked. Galvin said his department was preparing an information packet and notification letters that would be followed by visits with property owners. “We’ll talk to them,” he said. Oakley then asked what measures the city was prepared to take if a sign owner would not comply. “They’d be in violation of the law and technically we could fine them but that’s not what we want to do,” Galvin said. “We want to show them there are advantages to complying.”
Molly Martin, shadowing Tomsic, asked why two years was needed, and wouldn’t it be more effective, in light of comprehensive plan and zoning reviews underway, to just make it a year, and then revisit it, or to put it on hold until those reviews were complete. “What if someone’s on the ball and puts up a new sign and then in a month or two they have to do it again – new rules?” she asked.
Galvin said signs that came into compliance with today’s codes would be grandfathered if new rules came into effect, but admitted it might make sense to put things on hold until at least the review of downtown development guidelines was complete. “This is going to screw up my ordinance,” he complained jokingly. Council opted to put in abeyance the requirement for the 25 non-conforming signs to meet the current guidelines. “Let staff have a chance to sort this out a bit,” said mayor John Liebert.
Sixteen students from the advanced placement class at Blaine high school were paired with city council or staff members for Youth in Government day and spent the day job shadowing and in workshops.