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Jeff Ward: You Mean, They're Still Talking About Sandwich Boards?

I actually enjoyed the broadcast of the City Council chamber clock more than the actual meeting.

Considering the first hour of last Monday’s City Council Channel10 broadcast consisted of the camera insistently focusing on the chamber clock from various angles, when the aldermen finally took their seats, I thought we had nowhere to go but up.

I was wrong!

Because the downhill slide started the second the council refused to discuss anything regarding the ultimate fate of Streets Superintendent Steve LeMaire who recently was suspended for misappropriation of municipal funds.

To be fair, I didn’t expect them to go Herman Melville on us, but when, after lengthy deliberations, the city administrator issues a “no comment," it doesn’t go over very well.

And just when I was thrilled to hear them start talking again, I was reminded of the opening line of W. W. Jacobs' terrifying 1902 tale, The Monkey’s Paw: “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.”

Because that group, sans the mayor, who had to dash to a candidates forum, spent the better part of the second hour tackling the topic of downtown —yet AGAIN. Yes, dear reader, the subject that will not die comes back more often than Madonna.

This time, Director of Community Development Dick Untch described the fact some downtown businesses were, once again, blatantly displaying their “give us an inch and we’ll take a mile” philosophy of life.

Utterly ignoring the spirit of the new sandwich board law, instead of removing those temporary signs during off hours as required, two of ‘em were storing the signs behind a very visible Third Street bench while another propped it against the side of his building.

These legal positivist Perry Masons argued that since the signs weren’t being “displayed,” they weren’t breaking the law. They also claimed, through Untch, that the signs were too heavy to move the whole half block back to their stores.

Of course, none of ‘em showed up to the council meeting to plead their case, because even they know just how embarrassing their cases really are.

Untch, who had climbed the mountain (or at least the James Street steps) in search of enforcement enlightenment, while doing his best not to come off like a lousy golfer using overwrought body language to mitigate a badly sliced ball, desperately tried to give that body the leeway to make the obvious decision.

But we all know that sad end to the story about giving some people too much rope.

Alderman Craig Maladra, the only person in Geneva who likes to hear himself talk more than I do, rambled on about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness only to conclude that these businesses should be allowed to display sandwich boards 24/7.

Apparently, his definition of “temporary signage” vastly differs from mine.

And though we shouldn’t count him out quite yet, the new guy didn’t impress me, either. Recently appointed 2nd Ward Alderman Don Cummings waxed poetic about not telling businesses how to run their business.

Don! Ninety-nine percent of city code revolves around telling folks what to do. Though I’m known to come down on the side of less government, if you think that sentiment translates into allowing a minority of merchants to foist an eyesore upon the rest of downtown Geneva, then maybe this aldermanic gig might not be the pursuit.

Remember, this new sandwich-board statute was the result of Geneva bending over backwards to accommodate those scofflaw entrepreneurs who were already blatantly employing the illegal devices. So now you’re only encouraging them to be even more belligerent.

Despite that lapse, let’s give Mr. Cummings the benefit of the doubt for no other reason than his close dais proximity to Alderman Maladra might be causing a disturbance in the Force. Perhaps he’ll seek the counsel of Obi Wan Kilburg or Qui Gon Marks to avoid the possibility of turning to the dark side.

On the plus side, some aldermen, Ron Singer and Chuck Brown for example, saw the Untch-induced light and called out the stored signs for the blatant blemish they clearly are.

And just when the council seemed hopelessly deadlocked on future enforcement standards, a combination of Untch essentially blurting out that these businesses were taking a mile and Alderman Dean Kilburg’s auspicious reiteration of what the word "temporary” really means, finally brought the board to consensus.

Leave your signs in plain sight during off hours and you might have to bring your checkbook to City Hall to get ‘em back.

The problem is, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to applaud Kilburg for his keen perception of the obvious or smack him for taking so long to apply it. Because by that hour, I was longing for Channel 10 to go back to their eternal broadcast of that clock.

Why is it, whether it’s work, school, youth sports or politics, 5 percent of the people always end up taking 80 percent of your time? I’m already warming up the column that will describe how downtown Geneva went down the tubes because some merchants insist upon acting like spoiled brats and we spent too much time arguing about sandwich boards.

Were I the mayor, I’d let those downtown merchants know that if they can’t police themselves, then the city would be happy to do it for them. I’d go all Osmond Brothers on them by citing that some bad apples spoil the whole bunch and send them a message by going right back to the sandwich board ban.

Though I have my sincere doubts, maybe then they’ll stop wasting our time.

ann holt-harris January 30, 2012 at 12:48 PM
I make it a practice to avoid shopping in stores that have the sandwich boards. They are an eyesore and say alot about the merchants who think they attract customers.
Jeff Ward January 30, 2012 at 01:00 PM
I'm voting for Ann for mayor! Jeff
Mike January 30, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Looking forward to your article describing "how Downtown Geneva went down the tubes". Be sure to include the Mayors participation. Why are so many Geneva businesses closing and or moving out? Downtown development needs to give some serious thought to decreasing business tax revenues thereby creating a reason to raise taxes Looks like a round robin?
Barry January 30, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Hey, speaking of downtown - what's up with the 'for lease' sign in the window of Kiss The Sky? Say it ain't so.....
Jeff Ward January 30, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Barry, Look up my economic dream team column for more info on that. They're most likely moving - they're just not sure where yet. Jeff
Mike January 30, 2012 at 02:47 PM
We can Kiss the Sky, goodby (possibly). What a shame.
Storm Nielsen January 30, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Years ago, the debate was about overhanging signs in the downtown (they're gone as grandfathered businesses left). Sandwich boards? I think they're cool, in a retro kind of way. here's what should be done: Simply state the size and manner of advertisement upon (no obscenity or porn - show some class). Take them down when you close for business and store them out of site. Elsewise, risk having them tossed into the dumpster.
Barry January 30, 2012 at 03:41 PM
That is a shame about Kiss the Sky. It's got to be tough being a specialty niche retailer in the high rent district.
Katherine Filkins January 30, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Leave them alone! If their signs are in good taste, let them stay up even at night. Has anyone walked 3rd St lately? It is so sad. I am shopping downtown and encouraging owners to stay. I used to live in Wayzata, MN. They had a charming downtown with a good variety of small shops. The rents became too high, owners closed, and the upper management of the investment houses decided the area was charming and close to home. It was a take over. Do we really want that to happen here?
Katherine Filkins January 30, 2012 at 04:58 PM
The one good thing about Wayzata is that cars are required to stop if a pedestrian puts a foot in a walkway! We should have 4 way stops at every cross street on Third. It would allow people to cross safely and allow cars coming from the north or south of Third to safely turn or cross the road. If you are in a hurry, take a different route.
Marty Kane January 30, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Merchants need to play by the rules, you can have sandwich boards up during business hours and then bring them inside every night before you go home. Its that simple. I do it everyday, but I use a chalkboard to promote specials for the day. Its a cheap but effective way to get people interested for certain things. They do not promote your overall business very well. They are not that heavy, you brought it out and you can bring it in. I am tired of this subject, downtown Geneva has bigger fish to fry.
robert poznanski January 30, 2012 at 05:54 PM
The obvious solution for this "monumental problem" is so obvious, that you have to wonder about the intelligence of the city council! As anyone who has witnessed the signs of closing business' along Randal Road lately,most of them are, "human powered!" Just mandate that, if a business want's a sign in front, that it be "human powered!" Traditionally, Sandwich Boars,always were! This way, a job is created, something rare, in this economy, and the "almost politicians", could actually claim to be creating jobs, and not be lying !!!
Marty Kane January 30, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Great Idea Robert.
Jamie L. January 31, 2012 at 10:25 AM
When I think of all the manifest legal, moral, ethical and spiritual issues that are woven into the fabric of sandwich board sign usage I become overwhelmed to the point of paralysis in my opinion-making. However, I seem to recall that it was the Osmond Brothers, and not Michael Jackson, who recorded the hit song "One Bad Apple."
Rick Nagel (Editor) January 31, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Great comment, Jamie L.! I'll edit the story, although "I'll go 'Osmonds' on them doesn't have the same ring to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DhgP8fydHQ
Jeff Ward January 31, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Jamie, Arrrghhh! You're right. This is what happens when you have too much useless music trivia in your head. The song was written by George Jackson (no relation) for the Jackson Five, but in eventually wound up in the Osmond's hands. Thanks for the clarification! Jeff
Katherine Filkins January 31, 2012 at 04:44 PM
MN was too cold to have "human" signs, but I always cringe when I see it here. I think it is degrading.

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