Enforcement of sign ordinance begins with city

The updated sign ordinance in Little Falls went into effect Sunday, July 15. Monday night, the Little Falls City Council approved a plan to enforce the ordinance. Tuesday morning, city workers Pete Boser on the ground and Tim Lashinski in the bucket truck, took down the “We Support Our Troops” sign on the building located on the corner of First Avenue and Broadway, known as Bank Square. City Attorney Toni Wetzel advised the Council to begin enforcement with this sign, popular or not, because there was no permit issued for the sign so it was not in compliance with the ordinance.

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Now that its updated sign ordinance is in effect, the Little Falls City Council approved a plan to enforce it.

Staff talked about educating the public by sending letters or stuffers with utility bills, possibly setting a date when non-compliant signs would be pulled by city staff.

City Attorney Toni Wetzel told council members it was their decision what to do. But, she said, “… We’ve been doing this for a long time … I think there needs to be enforcement efforts started now.”

At the very least, Wetzel advised the city to start with the list of complaints it has. “You need to start with those. Start at the top of the list, send out five letters a day until you get to the bottom,” she said.

The sign ordinance updates and its impending enforcement has been highly publicized said Wetzel.

“We need to start with something. We can’t keep saying ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘tomorrow,’” she said. “One of the chief problems has been the delay.”

The sign at the top of the list said Wetzel, is the “We Support Our Troops” sign on the old bank building on Bank Square.

“I believe with a permit that could be posted on that building. But they don’t have a permit right now; it needs to come down. Popular or not popular, it needs to come down,” said the attorney.

Early Tuesday, the “We Support Our Troops” was removed from the building.

Before mapping out a plan for the entire city, city staff will look into the compliance of 40-plus signs listed as possibly non-compliant in a formal complaint to the city by resident Robin Hensel.

Hensel is the resident who was asked to remove signs in her yard late in 2011, after someone complained to City Hall, and her signs were found to be non-compliant with the city’s ordinance.

It was in January, during a peaceful demonstration on Bank Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that Hensel noticed the “We Support Our Troops” sign and asked city staff if it was in compliance with the city ordinance.

Hensel said at the time that the content of the sign was not the issue, but that the main issue was if the city had a sign ordinance, it should be followed not only by residents, but the city itself.

The city then began the process of updating its sign ordinance, a process it had started in 2010, before its building inspector left the city’s employment. During this updating process, the city suspended enforcement of all sign violations, including those involving Hensel, until the new sign ordinance was approved.

After the updating process began, Hensel filed a lawsuit against the city, its co-administrators and police chief, citing among other things, that the city’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court.

The owners of the old bank building on Bank Square, Marvin Hoheisel and Tom Scherling, intend to have the “We Support Our Troops” banner hang again, in full compliance with the city ordinance.

Individuals have offered Hoheisel and Scherling money for a permit.

“We haven’t accepted any offers (money) from individuals,” he said.

Instead, the two are choosing to work with a local service organization to get the permit. “They would like to sponsor that ‘We support Our Troops’ sign,” said Hoheisel.

“Tom and I feel that it’s a tragedy that this sign had to come down,” said Hoheisel.