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Digital sign moratorium, liaison spat get attention in Hamburg

Hamburg Town Board members will vote on a moratorium on digital signs at their next meeting, after holding a public hearing on the six-month ban Monday night.

But many of the town workers, residents and high school government class students who filled the Town Board chambers Monday weren’t there to talk about electronic signs, but were looking for signs of discord on the board.

They saw a few sparks, but no real fireworks at the last meeting before next week’s elections.

And the heat that was generated concerned the one board member who is not seeking re-election, Joseph A. Collins.

Collins, a Democrat, has been in the minority for his tenure on the board, and he has had rocky relations with the GOP majority. This year, Republican Supervisor Steven J. Walters refused to appoint him to be liaison to town departments unless he attended an anti-harassment training seminar. Most resolutions that come up at board meetings come from the members who are liaisons, so the move restricted Collins’ ability to participate in town government.

One resident asked why Collins didn’t second any resolutions Monday night, and another grilled Walters on the liaison appointment. Walters said that Collins had been found to have violated the town’s harassment policy but that he was free to second any resolution.

“To date, Mr. Collins has not attended that harassment training, therefore, to date, those liaison assignments have not been reinstated,” Walters said.

Collins said the person who investigated him was appointed by the board majority.

“You know what’s going on,” he said to residents before the supervisor adjourned the meeting because “this is not the correct forum for a political discussion.”

During the hearing on the sign moratorium, planning consultant Drew Reilly said the town’s Code Review Committee examines codes that may not be working correctly.

A clue “that they may not be working correctly is that we receive a lot of variance requests for electronic signs,” he said. “I believe just about every electronic sign that has come to the town has requested a variance from the law, saying they can’t meet the law.”

The town wants time to see whether any changes – and, if so, what kind – are warranted in its regulations on electronic variable message signs. Reilly said signs are mentioned in a number of sections of the Town Code, which would be addressed during the moratorium.

The proposed moratorium would start when the board approves the temporary ban, but it would date from Sept. 9, when the board set up the public hearing, although the town could change that date, Reilly said. If there is not a cutoff date, there could be a rush of applications, he said. Reilly said that one application came in last week.

Kenneth Peskin of the International Sign Association spoke out against the moratorium, and he offered documents to the town on industry recommendations and model codes, as well as a video on various features of digital signs to help the town in its review.