Planning Commission declines to hear sign appeal


By Stan Welch

The Williamston Planning Commission declined to hear an appeal by town councilman Rockey Burgess in reference to his application for a sign permit.

As reported last week in The Journal, Councilman Burgess reacted to a billboard that was placed on East Main Street, supporting the strong mayor form of government in the upcoming referendum by placing an unpermitted temporary sign supporting the changing of that form of government.

Town employees did not issue a permit for the sign on the grounds of an incomplete and inaccurate application. Burgess sought and received a hearing to appeal the issue. That hearing was held Tuesday night.

Following a brief statement by Commission Chairman Marion Middleton, Jr., the commission members immediately went into executive session with town attorney Lee Cole. After approximately 25 minutes, the commission reconvened and Middleton stated that any decision by the commission, either for or against Councilman Burgess, was basically useless vis-a-vis the upcoming referendum.

Middleton then asked Burgess or anyone else in the Council chambers if they were in possession of a letter from the Mayor, or his designee, formally informing Burgess of his application’s denial. Neither Burgess nor anyone else, including several town employees in attendance, could produce such a letter.

Middleton pronounced that in the absence of a formal denial of the application, and the subsequent issuance of the letter, the Commission lacked any authority to hear the appeal. “Without a denial, there can be no appeal,” said Middleton before adjourning the hearing. He also pointed out that the sign is still in place and probably will be beyond the referendum.

Burgess spoke to the Chairman, asking if an informal discussion might be possible. Middleton stated that he would talk with Burgess but that no ruling would be made, because of the circumstances. “We are adjourned and cannot take any action.”

Burgess asked that Police Chief Tony Taylor act as the Mayor’s designee, and deny his application so that his appeal could be heard. “Even if it is informal, I will abide by this Commission’s decision,” said Burgess. Chief Taylor said he had no authority to deny an application, and the meeting adjourned.