County: No formal basis for nixing signs
County officials did not have a formal decision from county counsel that protest signs were political before asking that the signs be taken down, a county department head said Thursday.
Jesse Montoya, the county’s community development director, said Steve Brown, county code enforcement officer, did not have a definitive legal opinion that “No on NH 2020” and “Stop NH 2020” signs were political before Brown mailed letters March 26 asking they be removed.
Under the county sign ordinance, political signs may appear 90 days before an election but must be removed 10 days after an election. The primary election was March 5. Protest signs first appeared about a year and a half ago.
Montoya stressed that he and Brown discussed the matter before the letters were mailed to two organizations whose phone numbers appear on the signs.
Brown wrote in his letters to Protect Your Property Rights and Citizens for Property Rights in Nevada County that he contacted them first as a courtesy before contacting property owners. If neither party complied with the county’s request to remove the signs, the county would hire a firm to remove them from private property, the letters said.
“We understood it was a complex issue,” Montoya said about the signs protesting Natural Heritage 2020, the county’s embattled long-term planning process due to be finished next year.
Drew Bedwell, founder of PYPR, responded that the signs belong to individual property owners on whose property they are posted. Bedwell also said asking that the signs be removed was a violation of free speech.
Officers of the other organization, Kirk Pharis and Bill Weismann of CPR-INC, met with Montoya Thursday morning intending to ask for Brown’s resignation, saying he did not make an unbiased decision concerning the protest signs’ removal.
They didn’t make the request, Weismann said. Montoya said the meeting was cordial.
“They were gentlemen,” Montoya said of Pharis and Weismann.
Weismann and Pharis also asked how, if NH 2020 is deemed a political process, the nonprofit Sierra Business Council could be involved without violating its charter.
Montoya said he and Brown would await a formal opinion from County Counsel Charles McKee, scheduled to return to work Monday, before proceeding further.
“We do not have an official in-writing opinion,” Brown said about whether the signs are political in nature and should be treated accordingly. “But we have had an informal discussion that that is at least a defensible position.
“We’re not going to do anything further until we have an official opinion from county counsel,” he said.
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