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Bedford City Council To Hold Special Meeting On ACLU Injunction On Sign Ordinance
Updated December 19, 2016 2:31 PM
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sam shaw.jpg

(BEDFORD) - The Bedford City Council is holding a special meeting tonight to address a preliminary injunction filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana against the City of Bedford and its sign ordinance.

The meeting will be held in Mark E. Scherschel Sr. Council Chambers at City Hall beginning at 5 p.m.

A preliminary injunction is a court order that prohibits the City of Bedford from doing an act in order to preserve the status quo pending a ruling or outcome in the suit - in other words enforcing most of the city's sign ordinance.

According to court records the injunction was filed last Monday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana. The city, represented by Liberty Roberts with Church Church Hittle and Antrim law firm in Indianapolis, has two weeks from the filing date to respond.

Once the city's response is filed, Judge Sarah Evans Barker will schedule oral arguments.

On October 31, the ACLU of Indiana filed the law suit on behalf of Sam Shaw. For years Shaw has placed signs expressing his opinions in his yard on I Street. n September, Shaw received a letter from the city's planning director informing him that he was in violation of the city's new sign ordinance. If Shaw didn't remove his signs, he faced a $300 per day fine. Shaw removed the signs.

However, the ACLU says the city's sign ordinance violates Shaw's First and the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights.

According to a news release issued by the ACLU, the city's sign ordinance has several provisions that the lawsuit alleges violate the Constitution, including:

  • A provision prohibiting permanent nongovernmental signs on residential properties and imposing an unconstitutionally vague and content-based definition of what constitutes a "temporary" sign.
  • A content-based provision imposing temporal and quantity restrictions that depend on whether the sign is advertising a special event, an open house or the sale or rental of a property.
  • A nonconformity provision that incorporates content-based restrictions from a prior ordinance that are unconstitutional.
  • A provision that limits the number of signs with an unregulated message to one outdoor sign, and one small sign in a resident's window.

The City of Bedford prepared the following statement after receiving notification of the law suit:

The City of Bedford Planning Commission began reviewing the city sign ordinance a few years ago. The sign ordinance was reviewed and revised by a special committee of the Planning Commission and subsequently passed by the Planning Commission. A public hearing was held prior to passage by the City Council on April 14, 2015.
On June 18, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Reed vs. Town of Gilbert that sign ordinances implemented by many municipalities were null and void based on content restrictions. The citizens of Bedford were informed of this ruling and all sign enforcement ceased with the exception of setback rules and placement of signage on public right-of-way.

Subsequently, the special committee of the Planning Commission began working on a new sign ordinance to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. The result was Ordinance 15-2016 that was passed by the Bedford City Council in September 2016. The current sign ordinance specifies the size and number of signs allowed on residential and non-residential property but does not stipulate restrictions on content.

Elected officials of the City of Bedford took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of Indiana and are wholeheartedly committed to upholding their statutes. There is a lack of case studies in existence for local units of government to determine best practices for sign regulation implementation following the newest Supreme Court ruling. Accordingly, we look forward to addressing this matter and resolving it as quickly as possible.

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