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The outrageous and illegal sign, or more accurately, the banner, of business advertising in downtown Lake Geneva rages quietly on, just below the surface of the towns hushed discontent. Nobody in city government wants to tell the new city administrator that he’s got bats in his belfry when it comes to interpreting city ordinances. The Finance, Licensing and Regulation Commission (FLR), kicked that hot potato right through the goal post of the Business Improvement District (BID). No points were scored, but the hot potato was gotten rid of. The element of time was inserted into the controversy.

What’s the controversy? The new city administrator decided to re-interpret an old and traditional ordinance that allows the city to support activities

David Nord, City Administrator Lake Geneva

David Nord, City of Lake Geneva Administrator,

like Winterfest and Venetian Days and more, to allow one regular storefront business to qualify to have six huge banners wave in locations all over the downtown. David Nord decided “on his own” that the word activity also meant “a business”. That might have changed when the issue became public, but it did not. Great courage is uncommon in government, and most likely in a lot of other places too. This was demonstrated by the FLR decision.

What is the BID supposed to do? Yes, they paid for the poles the banners are hung on but the BID has no power to enact, interpret or issue citations in response to violations, which would include the ordinance being discussed in this article. The BID has no power at all, except to recommend (without any teeth) to enforce or coerce decisions by any other entity. Meanwhile, thanks to a bit of a courageous display by FLR member and president of the city council John Halverson, a moratorium was established on businesses being allowed to use the ridiculous “activity” definition to one-up their competitors and get up on those poles. That moratorium was over the objection of David Nord, by the way. Also, meanwhile, and supposedly until the next BID meeting, the Candle Mercantile will have its banners flying high, right in the face of the other businesses that were all cited on the 22nd of July for having advertising stuff out on the sidewalk in front of their establishments.

There’s an ordinance that prevents downtown businesses from “ex-business site” advertising. A business cannot put up a sign on a building that it is not doing business in, or put up anything on the sidewalk beyond 32 inches to support bringing people in the door (at all). But right now there’s the Mercantile sign-waving in Bob’s face. Bob, of Bob’s Beach Shack, being one of the business owners who was served with a $187.00 dollar fine (per day) for violating the ex-business location ordinance. Should the city be fined for supporting the violation of that ordinance by Candle Mercantile, or should the owners of that business?

Either one of the ordinances has to go or there is no fair treatment under the law and the very professional and wonderful Judge Sibbing is going to be in the hot seat settling that issue on the 22nd of August. Both Ruth, of the Kite Store, and Bob, of Bob’s Beach Shack, are going to court, pleading not guilty and then placing the whole mess in front of Judge Sibbing. Should, somehow, the activity sham created by the owners of the Candle Mercantile and David Nord, Lake Geneva City Administrator, be approved, then how is Lake Geneva going to decide among all 177 business owners which is going to be allowed to advertise in, and on, those banner locations, which are not, and then why?

It would seem that another entire committee would have to be funded, created and then issued guidelines for history, product, time in business, how much business might be willing to pay, and more. How much would the committee cream off the advertising revenues? How is it that small government can create problems of magnitude out of the simplest most traditional and seemingly settled issues?

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