May 5 2008
11:44 pm

"After hearing the debate framed in terms of aesthetics, driver safety and capturing local tourism dollars, Knoxville City Council members could decide whether to permit digital billboards based on which course of action is least likely to get the city sued."

Since approx 1500 communities around USA have banned billboards and four states have banned them it would seem a precedent has more than been set.


Lisa Starbuck's picture

Getting Sued

So the KNS take is that City Council is probably going to allow anything so that it doesn't get sued? Too late - Lamar has already sued the City over this issue after they illegally converted two traditional billboards in 2006 and the City got an injuction to stop it, so Lamar sued and that suit is still pending.

City Council's job is to make and uphold laws and regulations to protect the health, safety and well-being of its citizens - not to compromise because a bully corporation might sue. Lamar is a bully who WILL sue to get whatever it wants - just Google digital billboards and you can get a feeling for how they operate. But the law is clear that cities have a right to enact these regs, so Lamar can sue but isn't likely to win. And besides, that's what we have a law department for IMHO.

The vote is tonight - unless Lamar gets it postponed - so please email Council and ask them to do the right thing. The citizens spoke in 2001 and said "No More Billboards" and it is Council's job to uphold that and prevent Lamar from changing the law.

Rachel's picture

Based on my conversations

Based on my conversations with Council, I count at least 4 votes to ban the durn things. Pelot has also made it clear where she stands (goodness knows why).

That leave 4 to be worked on - Brown, Roddy, Hall, & Bailey.

The industry is asking for a postponement precisely because they're afraid if the vote is taken tonight they will lose.

BTW, the City law department has opinied that such a ban would stand up to court scrutiny. They're usually pretty smart about such things.

Rachel's picture

So what happened? I had to

So what happened? I had to go to a neighborhood meeting and just got in. Expected to see a report on here from somebody.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

They Decided Not to Decide

Somehow, after a very lengthy discussion, the agenda item failed to get a vote.

Mark Brown and Barbara Pelot made various motions to postpone or delay the vote for 30 days on behalf of Lamar. The reason given was that the recommendation on the table (Option C-2 as recommended by MPC, which was basically the 2 for 1 billboard swap on the interstate only) was determined to be problematic legally. Which was not really news, both Lamar and Scenic Knoxville have asserted that there were legal problems with that option since before the MPC voted on it, but Lamar needed a good reason to delay because they weren't sure of their votes.

Barbara Pelot said she had received over 200 emails on this issue and she didn't think we ought to rush into anything without further consideration. She made a motion to postpone for 30 days.

Mark Brown said we should convene another task force to study the issue some more and see if we couldn't work out a compromise that wouldn't cause legal problems. He made a motion to send it back to MPC.

Thanks to Rob Frost, Joe Hultquist, Chris Woodhull, Bob Becker and Marilyn Roddy, who tried to drive a stake through the heart of this monster. They were ready to vote it down I think, but there was a lot of push back from the others.

I think it was Rob Frost who said they'd discussed and dealt with digital billboards more than any other issue except the budget and made a reference to a scene in the movie Animal House where the pledge has to thank his tormentors for the whack on his posterior with a board, and ask for another one please. A small moment of levity in mostly tense discussion.

Bottom line was they decided not to decide. At least not tonight. After the two amendments above failed, nobody was willing to make a motion on the original item. So it died without a vote and they moved on to the next item on the agenda without doing anything.

The net effect is that the billboard companies get another at-bat. But so does Scenic Knoxville. And so do you.

City Council's dilemma is that this is a very sticky issue.

On the one hand they are hearing loud and clear from ordinary people and the neighborhood groups that they don't want digital billboards. They're blinding and they're ugly, and they're energy hogs, and the digitals just make their intrusiveness 1000 times worse. The thing about billboards is -- nobody likes them unless they are making money from them.

On the other hand, Lamar has already sued the City of Knoxville over digitals, which is currently ongoing and awaiting the outcome of this vote to proceed or not, and besides they just gave $100,000 for a new skate park.

I think City Council would love to get rid of this hot potato, but it looks like it's going to drag out a while longer. I don't think there is any way Lamar is going to let it just die, so we'll be doing it again soon.

If you sent an email to City Council - thanks so much. We'll probably ask you to do it again, since the record starts all over if it is brought back up before Council.

bizgrrl's picture

On the other hand, Lamar has

On the other hand, Lamar has already sued the City of Knoxville over digitals, which is currently ongoing and awaiting the outcome of this vote to proceed or not, and besides they just gave $100,000 for a new skate park.

Lamar gave the City of Knoxville $100,000 for a skate park?

bizgrrl's picture

Maybe the city should give

Maybe the city should give the money back to the company.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Follow the Money

The money actually went to the Legacy Parks Foundation, the new non-profit set up to benefit the City and County parks. It was earmarked for the Tyson skatepark.


scroll about halfway down the page to April of 2006

It wasn't long after that until Lamar illegally converted two traditional billboards to digital and in Sept. of 2006, the City's law department got an injunction to stop them from turning it on because it clearly violated the city's billboard ordinance.

Notice Councilwoman Pelot there in the photo?

You'll also notice the County Mayor. All Lamar had to do to get digital billboards in the county was make a request at BZA and it passed in 10 minutes with no discussion, no public input, nada.

jbr's picture

City council contact

City council contact information


Agenda can be seen here....


jbr's picture

Billboard issue fails to come to a vote

"After nearly two hours of discussion Tuesday at Knoxville City Council, the long-debated issue of whether to allow digital billboards within the city limits ultimately failed for lack of a simple motion to bring the matter to a vote."


R. Neal's picture

A reader writes that

A reader writes that technically (as JBR notes) the issue failed for lack of a motion, i.e. they decided by deciding not to decide. It isn't on any agenda (yet), but with the kind of money involved it is likely to be back, as Lisa Starbuck notes.

Rachel's picture

Yup. It's dead for now.

Yup. It's dead for now. Even the folks who said they were going to support the billboards (i.e., Barbara Pelot in yesterday's KNS) didn't support them enough to stick out her neck and make a motion to approve them.

But I suspect we may be hearing about the need for a new task force in the near future. The good thing is, if that happens, citizens can insist it be better balanced than the last one and that its meetings be sunshined.

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