by BETH ALTENA
Among other votes, the Rockford City Council unanimously passed an extension on electronic billboards Monday, May 14 at the regular meeting. According to City Manager Michael Young, the nine-month extension of an original nine-month moratorium on the roadside digital advertising is, in part, waiting for the results of a federal study on whether digital billboards are a distraction to drivers.
“The result is three years late. Given the federal government, we aren’t surprised,” said Young.
The extension has nothing to do with a current lawsuit against the City by CBS Outdoor Signs, an electronic billboard company that wanted to put one within City limits near Shaw Creek Estates on Northland Drive. The City is in the midst of the suit brought against them by a refusal to allow the billboard by CBS. The company is suing Rockford, and other communities who have refused to allow the billboards, on the grounds that the refusal is hampering the right to free speech. According to Young, Rockford felt it was in the best position to take on the suit as the City’s ordinances specifically forbid the digital signage.
Young also noted that the suit includes mandatory mediation, and joked that, given the electronic billboards are prohibited by City ordinance, the City has very little room to mediate. Young said that if the federal study comes back with a ruling that the billboards are not a distraction to drivers, the City will still refuse to allow them.
“We will fight it all the way and I have no doubt we will win,” said Young.