East Grand Forks leaders are rethinking an ordinance that prohibits residents from planting signs in public spaces or rights of way.

After a brief discussion on Tuesday night, City Council members are set to discuss in two weeks whether they’d like to ask city police and, perhaps, other employees to more rigorously enforce that ordinance or if they should revise it or do away with it entirely.

Police Chief Mike Hedlund asked council members for direction after an eastside resident complained that police had removed one of their signs but not others that had sprung up shortly afterward. Enforcing the ordinance usually means yanking a sign out of the ground and throwing it away, but the sheer number of signs -- promoting garage sales, open houses and so on -- means police generally don’t enforce the ordinance unless someone complains, Hedlund told council members.

“Enforcement of it is difficult, to put it mildly,” said Hedlund, reporting that complaints are “very rare” and amount to “several times a year.”

City leaders batted around several ideas before opting to talk more at their next work session: Mayor Steve Gander suggested dropping off a copy of the city ordinance at offender’s homes, but Hedlund said that would triple or quadruple the effort his officers would need to spend. City Council member Tim Johnson wondered what the “beef” was if someone’s unlawful sign was taken down.

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“You guys aren’t walking up and down apartment hallways looking for noisy neighbors, but noisy neighbor complaints do happen out in our community and you respond to those,” Gander said, gesturing to Hedlund. “So there is some precedent for waiting until there was a complaint to follow up on something. So in other words, your current policy, if someone does call and complain about a sign, that’s your kind of loose standard for when that sign is removed. In one way, that’s reasonable.”

Chad Grassel, a member of the City Council, suggested attaching a copy of the ordinance to unlawful signs.

Council member Marc DeMers said he didn’t want to tell police not to enforce the ordinance and suggested editing it if the city doesn’t want to enforce it. Hedlund said he agreed.

“If we’re going to keep the ordinance as-is, then we should probably enforce,” Hedlund said. “Or, if we don’t like the ordinance ... we should modify it or just eliminate it.”

Silence fell briefly.

“Anybody have an opinion?” asked Grassel.

“We really haven’t helped you a lot, here, have we?” said City Council member Dale Helms to a ripple of laughter.

The council’s next work session is scheduled for July 23.

On the other side of the river, Grand Forks has a similar policy. City police don’t “aggressively enforce” that ordinance and get “less than a few” complaints about violations of it each year, according to Sgt. Duane Simon.

Should the East Grand Forks City Council get rid of an ordinance banning signs, such as "garage sale" or "open house," from the public right of way?

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  • Yes

    51%

  • No

    49%