County Amends Sign Ordinance in Wake of Supreme Court Ruling

Also applies storage fee for ice-fishing shanties at county parks

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, 

blocking up the scenery

breaking my mind.”

Five Man Electrical Band

The Door County Board of Supervisors approved a new amendment to its sign ordinance at its October meeting, with only Supervisor Randy Halstead registering an unexplained nay vote.

Mariah Goode, the county’s Land Use Services department head, explained that the amendment takes into account the Supreme Court’s ruling on Reed vs. the Town of Gilbert, Arizona, which she explained as, “If you have to read a sign to determine how to regulate it, something is wrong with your regulations.” 

In that light, Goode said it seemed time to amend the existing ordinance to match federal and state laws as much as possible before a court case ensued. Specifically, the amendment bans “animated signs, flashing signs, or signs that scroll or flash text or graphics,” excluding government signs and traffic signals. 

Also banned are inflatable signs, mechanical-movement signs, reflective or mirrored signs, obscene signs, signs on or over the roof of a building, and signs that emit smoke, vapors, particulate matter, sounds, odors or open flames.

At one point, Goode said the amendment specifically banned LED signs, but Supervisor Dan Austad said signs with LED lights are allowed, which prompted Goode to point out that she misspoke. LED lights are fine, but not if the lights are animated, flashing, scrolling or doing something to distract drivers. She also pointed out that the amendment applies only to the nine towns under comprehensive zoning and not the five towns with shoreline zoning.

Supervisor Megan Lundahl said an example of a distracting animated sign was the one at the Log Den on Highway 42 in the Town of Egg Harbor. Former Egg Harbor town board member David Enigl said the Log Den sign is no longer in operation, but it could be used again because it’s in one of the five towns where the amendment does not apply. 

Supervisor Bob Bultman said he hoped the ordinance moved more toward dark-sky compliance. Goode said the amendment makes it much stronger than the previous ordinance, but there is still work to be done. The ordinance does ban upward beacon lighting of signs, she said.

In other matters:

• The board voted to approve what county Administrator Ken Pabich said was a “long-overdue” flexible work schedule for county employees. They will have three options from which to choose: a flexible daily schedule between 7 am and 6:30 pm; an 8/10 schedule, working eight 10-hour days during a two-week pay period; and a 9/80 schedule, working 80 hours during nine days rather than 10.

Pabich pointed out that it will be up to department heads to approve such schedules according to the needs of that department, and that county business hours will remain the same, 8 am – 4:30 pm.

He added that although a work-at-home policy was considered, the county is not ready to take that step because of all the legal requirements involved.

“This is a good first step,” he said. The flexible work schedules go into effect in December. Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas pointed out that county employees in unions will have to negotiate for flex time.

• The board passed on a 15-6 vote a new $35 fee for anyone who parks an ice shanty overnight on county park property. County Parks Superintendent Ben Nelson explained that state parks have long had a policy banning ice-shanty storage in the parks, but they have only recently begun enforcing that policy, which has led to many more ice shanties appearing at county parks, which has led to some damage to park lawns and costs associated with plowing the parks and maintaining restrooms during the ice-fishing season. The $35 fee would be a way to recoup those costs, he said.

“It’s not going to sit well with the ice fishermen. I’m telling you that right now,” said Supervisor Jon Koch, one of the six who opposed the fee.

• The longest discussion of the meeting involved money for supervisors – in this case, how much they are allowed to spend to attend conferences. At a previous board meeting, they had settled on a flat fee of $1,200 annually for each supervisor, plus per diem, but board chair Dave Leinau said it seemed wiser to include per diem in the total, raising it to $2,000. He said that figure was arrived at by averaging what supervisors have spent in the past.

“That basically puts a cap on per diem,” he said.

That passed on an 18-3 vote, with Koch, Enigl and Ken Fisher voting against.

There was a second, longer part of this discussion during which the board decided to consider the county board ambassador program separately. The program is a function of the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), which several times a year has representatives from each of the 72 county boards talk to state legislators about specific issues that the WCA has chosen.

Supervisor Fisher said although he sees the value of the ambassador program, he believes the supervisors serving as ambassadors are actually working for the WCA and therefore should be paid by the WCA. A number of supervisors said Fisher’s view is wrong and that the board members are still representing their respective counties and doing good work. 

Supervisor Bultman, who is one of the three ambassadors currently serving (along with Vinni Chomeau and Megan Lundahl), said it is a great experience that has enriched his understanding of county government, and he has already seen good results from his participation in the program.

Several supervisors said they would like to see a better definition of the program and perhaps a mechanism to send different representatives at the discretion of the Legislative Committee.

Ultimately, in a 15-6 vote, the board decided to continue the ambassador program but to exempt it from the workshop/conference limit on which they had previously voted.

• Erin Hanson, head of the county Land and Water Department, gave an update of the ambitious private well testing program that’s being conducted in cooperation with the county Health Department and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The plan was to test wells in all 619 sections of the county (a section equals one square mile) in order to get a picture of groundwater quality throughout the entire county. She said that as of Oct. 25, 230 sections were represented, so UW-Oshkosh – the lead organization on the initiative – extended the Oct. 18 registration to Oct. 30 so the number of participating wells could be larger. 

The wells will be tested for the most common contaminants in the county: bacteria and nitrates. Well owners will be responsible for collecting the samples, and UW-Oshkosh will do the testing. 

Participants are asked to attend one of two public forums to receive the sampling kit and learn how to collect samples. The forums will be held Nov. 4, 6-8 pm, at the Gibraltar Fire Department; and Nov. 6, 6-8 pm, at Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay. Registration is required; register at