Signs discussion a signifier of larger issues in Avon
Council accused of not listening to community, planning commission regarding video message displays in town
The Avon Town Council meeting became a case study in semiotics Jan. 26 as a signs discussion led to a level of self scrutiny which became so uncomfortable that one councilmember exited the meeting early.
Ordinarily, sign discussions are not a tense topic in town, but a bit of information attached to the Jan. 26 discussion served as a signifier of a larger discussion which is often on the minds of elected officials — the desires of their constituents, and if they’re being met.
“Message signs are the second highest source of information,” Town Manager Eric Heil told town councilmembers on Jan. 26, citing a recent survey in Avon.
Nevertheless, councilmembers have hesitated to approve putting electronic variable message signs in town.
Heil said it was on the budget for 2020, but when COVID hit, councilmembers opted to defer the purchase of the signs. In January, a low bid of $123,564.31 was received by the town for two 13-foot-by-4-foot signs on the railroad bridge over Avon Road, two 3-foot-by-5-foot signs at Roundabout 1 and Metcalf Road, and a two-sided 5-foot-by-3-foot variable message sign near the Avon Elementary School bus stop.
Councilmember Tamra Underwood said she has been long opposed to electronic signs on the railroad bridge over Avon Road, and the newest version of that idea is an example of “project creep,” where the scope of an idea continues to grow throughout the process.
“Now we have five signs and six screens,” she said of the idea to purchase the new signs.
On Jan. 12, Town Council members learned that they should disclose text messages that they receive from the public during a meeting.
Heil called it a new addition to the town’s simplified rules of order.
“This was added recently as we’ve seen a growth in technology and social media,” Heil said. “If there are communications from the public to a councilmember concerning a topic you’re talking about, we have that the members of council should promptly disclose and announce the sending or receipt by a councilmember of a text message, email or other form of electronic communication to or from any such person, for any such communication that concerns a matter on the Town Council agenda for that meeting.”
While it wasn’t specifically on the agenda, councilmember Chico Thuon disclosed the gist of a few text messages he received during the Jan. 26 meeting.
“I just got three texts that actually said that we don’t listen to our public,” Thuon said.
From Vegas to Gypsum
Councilmember Lindsay Hardy, at the Jan. 26 meeting, said the signs matter also received a thorough discussion in the town’s planning and zoning commission. Hardy is the former chair of that board.
Hardy said the planning and zoning commission brought up well-lit communities both near and far when that board reviewed the electronic signs idea.
“We discussed that it kind of was like being in Vegas, when you see these lights at night,” Hardy said. “Gypsum has these, do we want to be like Gypsum?”
Hardy said the variable message displays would create a view distraction, as well.
“If you’re taking a picture from a roundabout, do you want this electronic sign showing up in your pictures of Beaver Creek?” Hardy said.
Hardy said the planning and zoning commission’s opinion was disregarded.
“We have a planning and zoning commission for a reason and we should listen to them,” Hardy said.
“We did ask planning and zoning’s opinion, and then we didn’t listen to planning and zoning’s opinion,” Underwood said.
Thuon, however, said if there was someone who was not being listened to, it was the public.
“It’s No. 2 on the list of the way that people, although it’s archaic, that people get their messaging,” Thuon said.
In addition to archaic, Thuon also used the word “hillbilly” to describe the current method of placing printed signs above Avon Road on the railroad bridge.
“It’s basically like ‘let’s paint some sheets, and hang sheets,'” Thuon said. “Some of those signs are blowing in the wind.”
Thuon said nevertheless, he would like to see the issue go to a straw poll in town, because he believes people do want the signs.
“They’re telling us that’s how they get their information,” Thuon said of voters. “Let’s give them the information.”
Underwood responded by voicing her offense at Thuon’s description.
“None of my comments included do not do signs,” Underwood said. “My comments included include an additional sign so we can have some consistency in this hillbilly town of ours.”
Thuon said he didn’t want to fight on camera and bowed out of the meeting.
“Chico, do not leave this meeting when it gets hot in here,” Underwood said.
“You don’t listen to your voters, period,” Thuon said as he signed out of the Zoom meeting.
The signs discussion will be continued to a later meeting, date uncertain.
Councilmember Amy Phillips later said she was disappointed with Thuon for leaving the meeting.
“I just found that really unnecessary and insulting, and I hope that it does not continue,” Phillips said.