Judge orders billboards in Madison removed
Subject of op-ed article by Rich Eggleston
Photo by John Hart, State Journal
"A Dane County judge on Thursday declined to stop Dane County from ordering the removal of three billboards along Aberg Avenue.
A Dane County judge on Thursday declined a request by a billboard advertising firm to delay the removal of three North Side billboards while it appeals a decision in which the judge threw out its open meetings lawsuit against Dane County.
Circuit Judge Frank Remington said he didn’t believe that Adams Outdoor Advertising was likely to succeed in its appeal of Remington’s decision, made last month.
In that ruling, Remingtonfound insufficient evidence that Dane County Board members had improperly decided against renewing a lease of county land along Aberg Avenue where the billboards have stood since 1966.
In August, Adams sued the Dane County Board over the 18-16 decision in April not to renew the lease.
Adams alleged that Sup. Paul Rusk violated the state open meetings law and its prohibition against 'walking quorums' by improperly lining up votes against the lease renewal.
Adams wanted Remington to order that the board take another vote on the lease.
On Thursday, soon after Remington’s decision not to grant a stay that would keep the billboards up, Adams filed an appeal with the state 4th District Court of Appeals, seeking an immediate review.
Under its contract with Dane County, which expires Saturday, Adams would have 10 days to remove the billboards.
Adams’ lawyer, Brian Potts, argued that once the billboards are removed, it would be impossible to restore them should the appeals court rule in Adams’ favor.
But Remington called Adams’ chances of succeeding in its appeal 'slim at best.'
--Ed Treleven, Wisconsin State Journal
Read more coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal here
Rich Eggleston: Billboards shouldn't be forever
Adams Outdoor Advertising has fought in court over billboards, including this one along Aberg Avenue on Madison's North Side.
FITCHBURG — If you have an eye sore you go to an ophthalmologist, unless your eyesore is a billboard. Then, if you’re Adams Outdoor Advertising Co., you go to a lawyer.
Adams’ lawyers’ efforts to bend the law to their will are not always successful, but they keep trying. In February, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess rejected Adams’ claim that partly obstructing the view of one of its billboards with an overpass on Madison’s busy Beltline in Fitchburg was not an unlawful taking of private property, as Adams had contended.
Adams avoided lawsuits when it settled longstanding disputes with the city of Madison in 2011, but the settlements came at a cost to the public. While Adams agreed to remove two eyesores — one at Union Corners and the other at the Villager Shopping Center on the South Side — it was given the right to apply for five new billboards, as though Madison’s ban on new billboards didn’t exist. This is an example of how valuable billboards are — to the billboard companies.
Adams wanted to preserve that billboard infrastructure despite opposition by pesky neighbors, so it went to court to challenge the County Board’s 18-16 vote, taken on April 7, against renewing a lease for a billboard on county land near the Dane County Regional Airport.
The real question isn’t the legal technicality on which Adams wants to hang its hat, or its convoluted view of its rights. It’s whether signing a billboard lease is like entering into a marriage contract “until death do us part.” According to the law unto Adams, once you’ve signed that lease, there may be no such thing as a divorce.
In fact, we’ve always had the right to view the natural landscape, and billboard companies have never had the right to impose their message between you and that natural landscape.
It all brings to mind the doggerel penned by Ogden Nash (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer):
“I think that I shall never see/a billboard lovely as a tree./Perhaps, unless the billboards fall/I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Far-fetched? Not in Wisconsin, where state law gives billboard companies the right to cut trees on public property if they interfere with passing motorists’ view of a billboard.
Eggleston, of Fitchburg, is a member of the board of directors of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.
A Small Band of Determined Citizens Can Make a Big Change
Digital Billboards - Coming In Great Numbers - Soon
It's time to be prepared for an onslaught of lobbyists and executives that will soon arrive in our communities across Wisconsin. They will meet with your elected representatives and attempt to negotiate "deals"to convert your traditional billboards into digital. They will frequently attempt to rush what appear to be minor ordinance changes through the process without time for citizen input or for the the officials to start asking questions. These tactics can result in the destruction of local sign codes. Be prepared for them.
CSW is dedicated to scenic conservation in our state. We are actively engaged in supporting legislation to control billboards. This means fighting the status quo and it is not a simple undertaking. We can use your help and if you would like a membership, please visit our membership page by clicking here.