Signs of conflict

When it comes to temporary advertising, all signs point toward growing disagreement between Newton's elected officials and its appointed planning commission.

That could continue tonight when Newton City Council considers a measure to modify the city's policy on temporary roadside signs.

Under a proposal slated for consideration during tonight's 7:30 p.m. meeting, Newton would change its sign rules to allow an unlimited number of on-premise and off-premise signs to be placed anywhere, including city property and street rights-of-way. Those signs could be placed without a permit required, but each would only be allowed to be posted for seven days.

Newton's planning commission has already unanimously voted against changes to the sign rules — three times.

In spring 2011, former Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax asked the city's planning commission to study Newton's rules for temporary signs placed in public road rights of way.

The commission reviewed Newton City Code in June 2011, and decided to take no action, according to a Jan. 13 memo from assistant planning director Alex Fulbright.

In August, Mullinax again appealed to the appointed body to reconsider its position. In September and October, Newton Planning Commission considered the city's temporary sign rules and voted unanimously Oct. 25, 2011 to not change the policy.

At its ensuing meeting in November, Newton City Council voted unanimously to recommend that Newton Planning Commission change the city's code governing sign changes.

And when Newton Planning Commission met and held a public hearing in December, it again unanimously refused any change to rules for temporary signs in the city.

Minutes from the meeting and a memo to Newton City Manager Todd Clark reveal some of the thinking behind Newton Planning Commission's action.

"The planning commission indicated that their reasons not recommending any changes are that there are prohibitions against signs in public rights of way or state maintained roads," Newton's assistant planning director wrote in his memo. "Not requiring permits would make it difficult to enforce ... allowing temporary signs anywhere would create a clutter issue throughout the city and diminish the aesthetic appeal of the city."

Meanwhile, Newton's former mayor stated his motivation behind proceeding with changes that would allow more city leniency for temporary signs.

"What I am trying to do is two things: Make it possible for our merchants and businesses to advertise on a temporary basis and to make it so our civic clubs are not heathens under the law," he said in November.

Mullinax is no longer among Newton's elected leaders — Mayor Anne Stedman now gavels each city council meeting into session — but Newton City Council will still meet tonight to consider one of the loose ends the outgoing mayor left behind.

Newton City Council's meeting is held in the council chamber of Newton City Hall, and it is open to the public.

Other business on the agenda:

• Closure of Newton's compost facility.
• Rezoning requests for property located on Indian Trail and Southwest Boulevard.
• Consider a rural fire district budget for submission to Catawba County. The budget includes a proposed tax increase of 2-cents per $100 valuation for personnel costs.