Electronic Billboards: Process doesn’t pass Smell Test


February 3, 2015 11:31 AM



As Thanksgiving approached, with no fanfare, Proposal 250 showed up on the agenda of the City County Council. (A real Turkey!).  This proposal is designed to permit electronic billboards in the City limits. It was teed up and certain to pass, way under the radar. But not for the diligence of a neighborhood activist who keeps a keen eye open for such shenanigans, Proposal 250 would now be law.

What’s the big deal, you might ask?  I submit that this is a huge deal on so many levels.  The whole discussion of the negative impact of billboards on the built environment is a debate for another day. The more disturbing issue, in my mind, is the intentional circumventing of the reasoned, transparent processes that has shaped the public policy of our city for decades.

There are so many questions that require scrutiny:

  • Who thought this was a good idea? Answer: The Billboard industry and a surprising number of Council members.
  • What compelling need has arisen that calls for the abrupt, unceremoniously reversal of 30 years of public policy aimed ultimately at removing billboards from within the city limits. Answer:  No logical answer.
  • What were the recommendations of the professional urban planners within the Department of Metropolitan Development? Answer: None. They were never consulted.
  • What action was taken at the Metropolitan Development Commission, the body charged with acting on such matters? Answer:  None. The matter was never before them.
  • Was public input  solicited as this proposal was conceived? Answer:  NO
  • Who drafted this proposal and handed it to the City-County Council for immediate passage with no prior scrutiny? Answer: The Billboard companies.
  • What compelling public need warrants circumventing a process that has been successfully in place since the inception of Unigov? Answer: No logical answer.
  • What motivated our elected officials to be party such a stunt? Answer:  no logical explanation.

The few citizents that were able to drop everything on short notice and attend the committee meeting, urged a continuance until after the holidays.  That provided time to rally the troops!

Last week, 28 neighborhoods were present and prepared.   No doubt, the size and passion of the unhappy crowd, so close to a municipal election, may have given cause for pause.  So, the matter was tabled. The following statementwas issued by the neighborhoods: “The consensus position within our coalition is that both the proposed ordinance and the path it’s traveled thus far, are unacceptable”.

What the proponents of the ordinance failed to assess was the power of the history  of neighborhood passion around this issue.  It’s been ten years or so since the last billboard battle. Then, neighborhoods fought tirelessly and successfully to mitigate billboard blight in our city limits.  Most are still alive and kicking, strong and their resolve and irate about the reckless disregard for public process.

Hats off to the Marion County Association of Neighborhoods and Historic Urban Neighborhoods.  And, a wag of the finger to those who thought they could sneak one passed them.




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  • Great to have someone paying attention to city government. Thanks for shining a light on this troubling situation where the process was ignored.

  • Garry Chilluffo

    There were many questions not answered at the January 26 committee meeting. Almost 40 neighborhood groups throughout Marion County sat patiently through a 6 hour meeting in opposition to the sketchy proposal and the lack of public process. I do not find being granted a two minute snippet of testimony worthy of real public discourse. We also learned that night that the billboard companies feel Indianapolis is “under billboarded”! Really? You can thank the current billboard ordinance written by professional urban planners for DMD limiting the visual blight for THAT… and that’s where we want the proposal for a revised ordinance to be created and sent to the City Council.

  • Joan Hostetler

    The fight to limit billboards ten years ago seems fresh in my mind and I’m astounded that the issue has raised its ugly head again. Society in general has a very short memory. If you want to read more history about the fight to prevent billboard blight in Indianapolis (going back to 1900), check out this Historic Indianapolis article: http://historicindianapolis.com/indianapolis-then-and-now-billboards-in-indianapolis/

  • Tom Abeel

    Look at the date to which the vote was continued — April 6, 2015, NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game played right here in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Billboard guys will do everything in their power to keep the public away and at bay….

  • It is worse than you suggest. State law denies the Council the authority to initiate changes to our zoning ordinances; that authority rests solely with the Metropolitan Development Commission (and through them DMD). So the Council is pushing right up against the law, if not trying and end run around it, by ‘suggesting’ these changes to the MDC.
    Neighborhoods and other allied Organizations have uniformly denounced the billboard industry-written changes that will maximize their profits. Yet, the committee decided to give them 2+ more months to try to get this through – after 4 years of cultivating the Council behind closed doors and out of public view and rebuttal.

  • Katie

    I don’t understand why everyone is so up in arms about this issue? It is 2014, technology is not a bad thing. Digital billboards look better and could be helpful in times of emergency. I saw the presentation and as far as I understand, the billboard companies will have to remove more billboards than are converted to digital and won’t be allowed to put up any new billboards anywhere. Plus they have regulations that won’t allow the digital billboards anywhere near the neighborhoods. I’d think differently if they were allowed to put a sign in my backyard, but they aren’t.