MEETING OF EX-MAYORS' MINDS

Meeting of ex-Mayors' minds Ray Hibbard , Publisher Edmond Life & Leisure You have perhaps noticed the free flowing controversy building here in Edmond. Numerous articles and broadcasts have been highlighting a recent action taken jointly by three former Edmond mayors. The information has been free flowing because a professional media consultant was engaged to help them prepare and distribute news releases on the issue at hand. The issue is that the three former mayors, Saundra Naifeh, Dan O’Neil and Randel Shadid, are spearheading an initiative petition effort to allow Edmond citizens to decide the use of electronic message signs on the city’s byways. This is in response to a recent Edmond City Council vote approving the signs. Council voted in a 3-2 vote on Jan. 12 to allow electronic message signs in all zoning districts along arterial streets, and on all requesting businesses. The ordinance does not restrict or control content, and lighting limitations cannot be enforced by city staff, according to the group. The former Edmond Mayors on Tuesday, Feb. 11, filed paperwork to rescind the Council vote. They will have 90 days to collect the required 650 signatures. The petition calls for the issue to be decided by a vote of Edmond residents. Shadid said that there was a slight glitch in the paperwork so the petition will need to be refilled but that they should be able to start collecting signatures by early this week. In order for the signature to be considered valid, the person needs to be a resident of the City of Edmond and be a registered voter in Oklahoma County, according to Shadid. It may sound odd but some folks get confused as to whether they are inside Edmond city limits. You can have an Edmond mailing address but still not be inside the city limits. We get calls all the time from folks asking if their address is in Edmond city limits. We just tell them to check the color of their trash cans. If they are green, they live in Edmond city limits and if they are blue, they live in Oklahoma City limits. It is simple but effective. The three former mayors invited me to sit down with them this week to discuss the issue they are all so passionate about. To date, Edmond Life & Leisure is the only medium asked to do so. I have to confess that it was a little odd sitting down with all three in the same small conference room especially when they all agreed on the subject. However, it will get your attention. You have to think that they may be on to something when you get such diverse views agreeing. Actually, it isn’t so odd after all. No matter what their difference may have been, they all three have a sincere love for Edmond and are giving to their community. Naifeh, O’Neil and Shadid may not use the same path to get there but they all want the best for the Edmond community and its future. “We are not against Edmond City Council and we are not against business,” Naifeh said of the petition drive. “We are for Edmond. Electronic messaging signs are not intended for way-finding but for advertising.” Naifeh served on the committee that crafted the ordinance. She resigned before completion of the committee work because she felt it was being too influenced by the sign lobby. Shadid said, “(Electronic message signs) are unsightly and diminish the beauty of Edmond.” He added, “More importantly, they are a safety hazard. Motorists should not be gazing at a lighted moving message sign while driving. It is as bad as texting behind the wheel.” O’Neil concurs. “As we see on major highways, one billboard leads to more and bigger billboards. We will see the same effect with electronic signage. Competition for the drivers’ attention will lead to more and more of these signs until Edmond resembles Las Vegas. That is not the image we want to reflect in Edmond.” An oldie but a goody: Signage is a consistent subject of debate in Edmond. It has been a part of the discussion in the City of Edmond for more than 30 years. This is the newest development in that long history to decrease the high standards to regulate signage. The ordinance will have a considerable effect on the appearance of the city, Naifeh said. Some of the issues they are unhappy about include allowing signs to be constantly updated, streaming messages, allowed use of color and an allowed 30-second rotation. According to the three, there is no zoning restriction on where the signs can be placed. O’Neil pointed out that there is a possibility that they could be placed in a residential area. This also means that they are not limited to certain streets or byways in Edmond. Shadid used the example of how beautiful Boulevard is currently. “This would allow electronic messaging boards at every business on that street,” he said. “Our city has made a significant effort to change Edmond's public policy for signage in order to eliminate clutter and improve our community image. Ordinances were passed to eliminate yellow flashing portable signs, stop adding billboards, and establish rules for on-premise signage,” said O’Neil. When I asked about the effect this petition could have on new businesses coming to Edmond, O’Neil said, “Our sales tax collections are off the charts (18 percent thus far this fiscal year compared to last). Make any comparison you would like to make; restrictive signage in Edmond has not hurt business. It has been "win-win" for both business and community. Sometimes less is best.” Naifeh said, “As a group, we feel strongly that allowing electronic message signage is a complex issue and, once this ordinance is instituted, we can’t go back. Our plan is to let the people of Edmond decide what they want for their city.” I don’t believe that you can argue with that statement. Letting the voters decide on an issue is a sure way to settle things. I also believe the current city council will be in favor of letting the voters decide. It is democracy at its best. My disclaimer is that selling advertising on electronic messaging boards can be a competitor to selling ads in newspapers. That happens to be the way Jennifer and I feed the family. However, over the last 20 years our competitors have grown exponentially in the newspaper business. Heck, we newspapers are supposed to be dead but our competitors just can’t close the lid on the box. One more is not going to bother us. They are welcome to the party. It is important to distinguish between an electronic sign that helps you find the business and one that is an “electronic messaging board”. This changes the sign from being helpful to being in your face with messages. A drive down one of our streets can be nerve-racking with traffic and the all too many drivers who still are dumb enough to text and drive. Do we really need another distraction that can cause traffic accidents? Just like the three former Edmond Mayors, I am pro business all the way. While some will disagree, the change they are seeking is not against business. It is actually pro business when you consider what brings people to move to Edmond in the first place. It is the quality of life which includes major streets that are not intrusive with electronic messaging boards. I just shuttered when Shadid used the example of Boulevard. I enjoy that tranquil stretch of road on the way to work every morning. It just makes me happy. Electronic messaging boards will destroy that tranquility. I don’t care for that and I think we need to find out how many Edmond voters agree. In another life, I spent a great amount of time researching information about how retail operations work and then writing about it in several white papers a year. Here is the formula folks: When the demographic profile gets to the quality and quantity that a retailer has selected as their focal point, they then look at your town for a location. If that number is strong enough, they will find a way to come to your location and operate within the community standards. Until that number is reached, in the strength it needs be for the particular retailer’s customer profile, nothing happens. They don’t invest millions of dollars in a location on a whim. The petition process is 90 days and the council will have to set a vote date after that. This won’t be the last on this issue so I invite those that agree or disagree with me to send your comments. As my friend Leland Gourley used to say about his column, “It is just one man’s opinion”. (Ray Hibbard may be reached by e-mail at ray@edmondpaper.com)