Thursday, August 11, 2005

Signs, library donations draw council concern

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Aug 11, 2005): Members of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council have expressed reservations about a proposed agreement with a new charity that supports the Thomas Memorial Library, and about the town’s sign ordinance.

At Monday’s meeting, the council scheduled for Monday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 p.m. a public hearing for changes to the sign ordinance, despite concerns about the rules from Councilors Michael Mowles and Carol Fritz.

Mowles, who supported the move for a public hearing, called the sign ordinance “rather restrictive." He said it "impinges on our right to free speech in certain areas.”

Fritz wanted the sign ordinance to be considered by the Planning Board to “have signs be in keeping with the town character.”

Councilor Jack Roberts said the revisions mostly clarified the language to specify the maximum area of each side of a sign, in the wake of last year’s election, when unclear language was exploited by some candidates to make campaign signs larger than town officials wanted.

Another provision removed a limit on the total area of signs on town-owned property, to allow directional and informational signs at the transfer station and Fort Williams Park, according to Town Manager Mike McGovern.

Signs on those properties violate the existing ordinance, which limits signs on town-owned property to a total combined area of 100 square feet. Those large spaces, with multiple possible destinations, need more signs to help people get around, McGovern said.

McGovern will meet with both Fritz and Mowles, and said “there are constitutional questions with any sign ordinance … It wouldn’t hurt to have a review in that context.”

Councilors also were concerned about a proposed agreement with a new charity, the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation, in the wake of a disagreement between councilors and leaders of another charity supporting a major town operation, the Fort Williams Charitable Foundation.

McGovern said the agreement needed to be in place so town and library foundation leaders can properly allocate donations made by community members. The town owns the library building and employs its staff. The foundation would raise money to donate to the town from time to time, in support of library activities. The town also accepts donations toward library operations costs from other private citizens and organizations.

Councilor Mary Ann Lynch said she had “some concerns, which I think have increased over the past few weeks,” and worried about some printed materials directing members of the Friends of Thomas Memorial Library to donate to the foundation rather than to the town.

Lynch, who said she helped revitalize the Friends group about 20 years ago, asked for the council to discuss the matter more fully at a workshop with the foundation directors before approving the arrangement.

Several councilors expressed concern about the possibility of a conflict between the town and the foundation, if each were pushing the library in a different direction. That is similar to the recent push by the Fort Williams Charitable Foundation to get the town to grant a permanent easement over the fort property to a local land trust, a move resisted by the town, which says the park is fully protected under existing agreements.

Library Director Jay Scherma said he had no problem with the foundation and the town working together.

“I personally don’t perceive a conflict. It’s clear to me that I am an employee of the town. … I answer to the town manager,” he said. “Foundations have become part and parcel of what is almost expected or de rigeur in the library community.”

He said the Friends group had never formally filed for tax-exempt status, and the foundation was taking over. “The Friends are being subsumed under the foundation,” he said.

McGovern said he would sign the agreement as an administrative action so there is a temporary agreement in place until the council can act on the matter.