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July 2, 2014

GILKEY: Do as I say, not as I do

— You've got to admit that Clarksville’s an interesting place to live. As a town council, we sometimes adopt rules for other people to follow while ignoring them ourselves. One case in point is Clarksville’s ordinance prohibiting farm animals in town while at the same time harboring a small heard of goats at a detention pond located in Ray Lawrence Park to keep the grass down. One town councilman flippantly tells people “They’re town employees.”

Well we entered another area of Clarksville’s controversial rule making at what was supposed to be a work session on proposed amendments to the town’s sign ordinance Tuesday, June 24. That session was intended to be a discussion on proposed changes to the town sign ordinance. Instead, a vote was held to send the ordinance to the town council with a favorable recommendation from the Plan Commission without ever hearing one proposed change. I sometimes jokingly tell people because of our many and varied ordinances, we have more things in Clarksville we can’t do than we can ... then it soaks in that I just might be right.

The new proposed sign ordinance changes, will be presented to the town council with a favorable recommendation from the Plan Commission (4 for 2 against and 1 abstention) at the July 7 town council meeting. The enhanced ordinance prohibits all sorts of “bad things” such as search lights at grand openings, pretty much any kind of moving or animated sign, many electronic signs (although others are highly regulated), human signs such as the guy who dresses up like Uncle Sam and solicits your tax business in April, and hand-carried signs like the ones the cheerleading squad holds up to tell you they are having a car wash and want your business for their fundraiser.

Needless to say, I was one of the two people who opposed sending the ordinance to the council with a favorable recommendation. I feel that if we are going to limit what residents of Clarksville can do, we should have a really good reason for doing so. Doing so because you read about them in some other city or a text book on urban planning doesn't pass muster for me.

One fellow Clarksville Plan Commission member suggested that if the town's planning director recommended the changes then they must be the right thing to do. While I hold our planning director in the highest regard, I couldn’t disagree more! The Plan Commission is supposed to set policy, not staff.

We have for some time operated in an environment where town staff is making the rules and the elected and appointed members of boards and commissions simply serve only as a rubber stamp. I would like to see that change. I don't recall the Plan Commission voicing concerns about any kind of signs, yet staff have undertaken to propose an expanded set of rules to govern them.

A public hearing earlier this year on the sign ordinance's proposed changes saw only a handful of people show up and to me, that's not at all surprising. It won't be an issue for the public until the cheerleading squad or some other group wants to have a car wash and find out that they can't hold up signs to attract customers. In a way, it's like bridge tolls; nobody cares until they are forced to pay $4 each way to cross the Ohio River. Then people will scream loudly.

Clarksville has historically passed very stringent ordinances to control what people can do and then turn a blind eye when it's convenient to "bend" the rules. I have philosophical issues with that approach. I believe if you are going to pass an ordinance, it should be passed the way you want it enforced.

I urge you to contact Town Council President Bobby Polston at bpolston@townofclarksville.com and ask for an electronic PDF copy of the proposed ordinance we will consider on the 7th. Or I will be happy to supply you with my proposed changes to the ordinance which also include the full proposed ordinance. I think you will it enlightening reading.

I'm all for ordinances we need to bring about pride, prosperity and progress in Clarksville. However making rules to solve problems that don't exist isn't my idea of good governance.

When you get through reading the sign ordinance, please let me know what you think. My town email is jgilkey@townofclarksville.com.

— John Gilkey is a member of the Clarksville Town Council.

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