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David Nord is the City of Lake Geneva City Administrator and he’s been doing his of job since he came aboard recently, in such a way as to avoid controversy and upset.  That’s admirable, considering the “loudness” of so many facets of other government these days.  But, with one stroke of his pen, this quiet unassuming city administrator stepped right through the door of controversy and good will.

What happened?

There’s an ordinance about street banners that covers the “cow pie” David has stepped into, Ordinance Section 62-251:
“Approval will be granted only for a banner which has as its sole purpose the advertisement or promotion of a facility, function or activity which, in the opinion of the Administrator, is directed to the general public interest.” 

David Nord has decided that the word “activity” may now, and never before, be interpreted by him to mean any business in Lake Geneva that might apply and pay the necessary fees. The current business that has signed up and paid is the Candle Mercantile on Main Street.  This business was given six banner signs, owned and operated by the City of Lake Geneva, to fly for whatever period they are allowed to fly.  Those banners fly above the street curbs on Broad, Main and Center Streets, in other words, those streets most traveled during Lake Geneva’s summers.  There’s another ordinance that is directly in conflict with the administrator’s interpretation of 62-251.  Businesses in Lake Geneva may not have off premises signs of any kind.   The city banners are certainly off premises, and nobody will argue that point.  Bob’s Beach Shack and the Kite Lady have both received letters stating that they will be cited if they do not desist in actions covered by that very ordinance. Those letters went out right under the off premises street banners the city administrator has allowed.

The conflict that has been created only gets more intense as the other business entities in town attempt to figure out who the city administrator is going to favor next.  He’s favored the people who own the Candle Mercantile. When interviewed, David stated that they were the only ones to apply, and that’s why he allowed them to have the banners.  David seemed unaware of the flood of applications he would receive once word hit the street that these banners would now, for the first time in  Lake Geneva’s history, be up for grabs…and currying favor with him would be the only way they might get their business considered and up there on the poles.  When confronted with this problem the city administrator immediately fired off a letter to all the members of the Lake Geneva city council.  He stated that if anyone had a problem with his decision to interpret the word “activity,” as now including private businesses, then the ordinance should be changed.  He did not mention that his own judgment in interpreting the ordinance might be called into question.

62-251 reads pretty clearly that the banners were always intended to be places where activities and events happen, like the Venetian Days, Winterfest and even the Ice Castle experience might be advertised because of all the traffic and business they bring to the city.  Occupying the banners with private business enterprises not only raised the very real specter of favoritism.  It also denies the use of those banners to real “facilities, functions and activities” that might help all business entities in the community, rather than just the business advertising.  The city council needs to fire an email back to the city administrator and tell him to back off.  The city does not need to create more problems than it already has, nor encounter needless legal action when one business feels slighted or favored over another.

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