Vernon council debate erupts over election signs

Most of Vernon council decided not to enforce the sign bylaw unless there are safety and liability complaints

Candidates for Vernon mayor and council will be able to put campaign signs up on public property even though that’s breaking the law.

During a heated debate Tuesday, a majority of current council decided not to enforce the sign bylaw unless there are safety and liability complaints. The bylaw doesn’t allow election signs on public right-of-way.

“I think it’s crazy,” said Coun. Brian Quiring of an administration recommendation to enforce the regulations even if a public complaint is not formally received.

“It’s like Christmas for the bylaw guys — ‘Let’s yank these things down.’ Signs let the community know who is running for election. It’s a waste of staff time and energy policing this.”

A similar concern also came from Coun. Catherine Lord.

“How much extra money will we spend policing this?” said Lord.

Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe questioned why the issue of election signs and where they are located was surfacing now.

“During the last election, signs were up everywhere,” she said.

Mayor Rob Sawatzky defended the staff recommendation by pointing out that a copy of the bylaw and where signs are permitted was given to candidates.

“There’s considerable confusion among candidates trying to abide by the rules,” he said, adding that the issue boils down to fairness. “When they see signs not in compliance, should they break the rules also?”

Will Pearce, chief administrative officer, insisted that it’s appropriate for the sign bylaw to be enforced.

“By some candidates, we (city) will be seen as favouring some over others and we don’t,” he said if signs are allowed in public right-of-way.

The only opposition to not enforcing the election sign bylaw came from Sawatzky and Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who supports the signs only being on private land.

“If we don’t enforce the bylaw, it opens things up for games. If you don’t like someone’s face (on a sign), you complain,” said Cunningham.  “If you can’t get enough people to put signs on their property, you’re probably in trouble any way (with your campaign).”