By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Whether they're locals selling the junk and treasures in their garages or out-of-towners setting up shop for a night, city officials want vendors to change the way they do business.
The Ordinance Committee of the Havre City Council on Monday night discussed some changes - both procedural and cultural - it wants to see happen in the near future to prevent risk to buyers and trees alike.
People advertising local events like yard sales and plays should use staples - not nails - when they put signs on trees, and take signs down when events are over, the committee said.
"The biggest problem I have is that they don't take (the signs) down," Havre Mayor Bob Rice told the committee. Rice had asked the committee to take up the issue.
Havre park and recreation director Dave Wilson said using nails to fasten signs to trees makes the trees more susceptible to insects and disease. He said staples are better because they usually don't penetrate beyond the bark.
The city's sign ordinance, on the books since 1906, is vague, the committee said. It lacks specific rules about when and where, how, and for how long signs are to be posted. It simply says anyone who wants to put up a sign must get the "previous written consent of the mayor."
That technically means that everyone who puts up a sign in town without the permission of the mayor is violating the ordinance. Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said he is reluctant to begin citing people who put nails in trees or don't take down their signs because that means he would be only partially enforcing the ordinance.
"As chief of police I can't say we're going to enforce part of it," Olson said. "If we're going to enforce this ordinance, we're going to enforce it in its totality."
Rice said that would be a burden.
"If you say enforce it to its totality, they've got to come to me to approve a garage sale," he said.
The ordinance would be difficult to enforce for other reasons, Olson said. He pointed out it would use up a great deal of police time to enforce, and that the ordinance does not even specify a penalty,
Committee chair Doug Larson said he prefers to try educating the public and seeing if the situation changes before trying to enforce the ordinance more strictly or drafting a new one.
"I like this idea of trying to educate them that it's a problem," he said.
The committee decided to write a guest column for the Opinion page of the Havre Daily News and to investigate the possibility of a disclaimer at the top of the classified ads in the paper asking that people not use nails in trees and remove signs the same day an event ends.
Rice also said he wants to put a large community bulletin board on the vacant lot behind City Hall where people can post notices.
Committee members and Olson said they do not intend to prevent the use of signs that support athletic teams, like the signs put up last year when the Havre High School football team made it to the state championship game.
Also in the meeting, the committee decided to ask the city attorney to review an ordinance that requires traveling merchants selling within city limits to register with the city.
Rice said he brought the issue up at the urging of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce but did not know of any incidents that created concerns among the business community.
Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg could not be reached for comment this morning.
Itinerant venders who come to Havre include fruit, produce and meat venders as well as venders of items like sunglasses.
The problem, Olson said, is that about three or four of every 10 venders do not register with the city. There is no fee to register.
Olson said he wants to know if there is any implication in the city's current ordinance that the city is endorsing or guaranteeing a product.
"The ordinance provides no safeguards whatsoever to anyone," he said. "We have no way of ensuring that these people are reputable business people."
Committee members and Olson also noted the difficulty of defining "itinerant" and "transient," the two terms of the ordinance, which was passed in 1967.
The ordinance requires that a merchant be issued a card proving registration with the city, to be kept on the merchant's person at all times.
Committee members suggested introducing a highly visible 8 -by-11-inch notice that venders would be required to display after they registered.
The ordinance also requires that venders who accept payments for future delivery post a bond of $1,000.