When our government masters vote to take away our
First Amendment right to free speech they always have
some lame excuse that they are protecting us from one
evil thing or another.
Scottsdale takes hard line on roadside 'sign-walkers'
By Edward Gately The Republic | azcentral.com Sat Feb 15, 2014 8:45 PM
A dispute over how restrictive Scottsdale should be in allowing “sign-walkers” is drawing attention to disparities that exist among Valley cities when it comes to regulating such makeshift advertisers.
The issue arose after the owner of a Mesa business that employs sign-walkers, complained that Scottsdale’s rule is far more limiting than those of most area cities. He is pushing for a change in the ordinance.
A 2008 state law requires all municipalities to allow sign-walkers, such as those dressed like the Statue of Liberty outside tax-filing offices or those who spin signs in a showman-like fashion while hawking furniture, jewelry, “cash for gold’’ and a variety of other goods and services.
The law allows municipalities to establish their own “reasonable” time, place and manner of restrictions. Many Valley cities decided to simply follow the state law.
As a result, some cities, including Phoenix, Chandler, Glendale and Mesa, have no specific sign-walker ordinances.
Not so in Scottsdale, where the city ordinance restricts sign-walkers to private property. They are not allowed to wave their signs on sidewalks or at intersections, where passing traffic is more likely to see them.
Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips and Jim Torgeson, owner of Sign King of Arizona, say the sign-walker policy in “the West’s Most Western Town” is unfriendly to businesses.
Businesses hire Torgeson’s firm to conduct temporary promotions. The firm prints the signs and employs sign-walkers to do the job.
At the City Council’s Feb. 4 meeting, Phillips asked the council to place on a future agenda “a presentation and possible direction to staff on the current sign-walker ordinance, including possible alternatives.”
The council voted 5-2 to place the item on a future agenda. Councilwomen Suzanne Klapp and Linda Milhaven voted against the request.
Phillips said banning sign-walkers from the public right of way is “really killing the business,” adding that the city needs to be more business-friendly.
“You can go on private property, but then you’re really being illegal unless you’ve got that property owner’s permission,” he said.
Milhaven said the city’s policy regarding sign-walkers shouldn’t change.
“As a community, we’ve got a long history of being very strict about our signs to keep the city beautiful, and I don’t think we need to relax what we have,” she said. “What we have is as strict as we can be, and the other thing is, people standing in the intersection twirling signs is a hazard. So, I have no desire to revisit this issue.”
Torgeson said his sign-walkers have been unfairly restricted from operating in Scottsdale despite the state law.
“I do business all over the Valley,” he said. “I’ve done business in just about every state in the country. I’ve done liquidations all across the country. The most cantankerous group of people is in Scottsdale. My guys are really sedate. They wave gently, not to be a spectacle, just to be seen.”
Restricting sign-walkers to private property, as Scottsdale does, makes it impossible for them to be seen by passing traffic to draw customers, Phillips said.
Officials in several other Valley cities say sign-walkers are expected to avoid creating a safety hazard but can otherwise do whatever it takes to draw in business.
Mesa police officers can make them move if they are blocking pedestrians on the sidewalk or if they are operating in an unsafe manner, said Gordon Sheffield, Mesa’s zoning administrator.
In Phoenix, sign-walkers are free to spin away as long as they aren’t creating a traffic-safety issue, said spokeswoman Sina Matthes.
It’s a similar situation in Glendale.
“We do just follow what the state law says. We don’t have any specific ordinance,” said Marcheta Strunk, Glendale’s public-information officer.
Tempe is somewhat more restrictive. The city prohibits sign-walkers in the public right of way unless they are granted a permit “upon a showing that the public safety and welfare will not be endangered,” Tempe police Sgt. Mike Pooley said.
Scottsdale police Officer David Pubins said the city is allowed to restrict sign-walkers to private property.
“And since our city does not outright ban commercial sign-walkers, we are in compliance with (state law), which authorizes reasonable time, place (and) manner restrictions,” he said.
The restriction from public property is a safety issue to keep the sign-walkers from entering the roadway, obstructing traffic and restricting a public thoroughfare, said police Sgt. Mark Clark.
If a sign-walker is found to be standing in a restricted area, he or she is either warned or cited, depending on the circumstances, Pubins said.
However, Dan Barr, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, said Scottsdale can say whatever it wants, but “you have to apply the facts to it.”
“It’s one thing to say it’s a safety issue if somebody’s blocking the view of traffic or pedestrians, but it’s another thing if it’s not blocking anybody’s view,” he said. “So, if it’s a situation where they’re twirling and not blocking any views or traffic or pedestrians, the safety argument is a lot harder to make.”
An amendment has been introduced in the Arizona Legislature by Reps. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, and Bob Robson, R-Chandler, to bar municipalities from prohibiting sign-walkers from using a public sidewalk, walkway or pedestrian thoroughfare.
Torgeson believes Scottsdale’s goal is to eventually get rid of sign-walkers.
“So, add another person to the unemployment line, that’s what our goal is?” he said. “People who work for me, it is the difference between food on the table or not. It makes a big difference for them. This is against small business (and) individuals who need work. There is no public-safety aspect to this. That’s a red herring if I ever saw one. I’ve never seen anyone hurt by a sign.”