Widespread complaints about the Hillsdale welcome signs posted on the edges of town caused the city council to reopen public debate about the town’s motto at the Nov. 7 meeting. City Manager David Mackie said he has received negative comments about the signs’ size, visibility from the road, and their content.
“I have a hard time seeing the new signs — they are small. I think they’re nice looking signs, but they’re not very big and they’re not lit up very well,” Hillsdale resident Dennis Wainscott said. “They also do blend in with the background greenery.”
Wainscott also admitted to being legally blind, but others shared his concerns. Councilman Bruce Sharp, who first brought up the issue of size at an Oct. 3 meeting, said the signs’ visibility has been a problem for him, too.
To appease everyone upset about the new signs, Councilman Adam Stockford expanded on a suggestion made by Councilman William Morrissey several weeks ago for a citizen-run contest for a new unofficial motto for the town. Stockford said he wants to show the people of Hillsdale that the city council cares about their concerns and wants to encourage them to participate in local government
“Everyone will be allowed some input,” he said. “We’re working with the local press — we’ll run a contest, the committee will receive all the slogans and then pick the best two. And then we put those two to vote and include ‘It’s the people,’ on the ballot too so residents have a chance to keep the old slogan.”
Stockford said it was important that the people take this task upon themselves.
“The committee needs to be composed of citizens — we have three volunteers now, but we need more,” he said.
Stockford credited Hillsdale resident Penny Swan as being the driving force behind the idea for a new town motto. Swan has been advocating for the city council to allow the citizens of Hillsdale to come up with a new motto ever since the city announced the new “Home of Hillsdale College” signs in September.
“I’d love to see “it’s the people” back, but if we could come up with a new slogan that would be great,” Swan said. “I’m open to anything — I’d just like to see something with us people other than the college acknowledged.”
Should citizens succeed to form a committee like the one Stockford laid out, it would hold no official power to give the City of Hillsdale an official motto or a new welcome sign. It also would not have the power to place any additional signs near the ones already posted on the side of the road without first getting approval from the city council.
Councilman Matt Bell said although he believes citizens should take an interest in their local government by forming committees like the one Stockford proposed, it is important that they follow legal procedure in these sorts of issues.
“I think it’s good that citizens pick up the ball and do things on their own,” he said. “We just need to be sure that we stay within the provisions of our charter as to who has the power to do what. If private citizens want to put up their own signs, they have to come to city council to get the permission to do it.”
Ashley Signor, vice president of welding company Liquid Metal Custom Creations, said she and her husband would be interested in possibly building a new sign. Signor said the town of Hillsdale has a rich history that does not just include the college and the signs should reflect that.
“In my opinion, many more things should be added to the sign to reflect Hillsdale and its roots, including the industrial parts of Hillsdale,” she said.
Until someone forms a committee to give Hillsdale a new unofficial motto, different suggestions are in play to make the current signs more visible. Several residents suggested lighting. Mackie said in a conversation with Hillsdale Chief Administrative Officer Rich Péwé, Péwé had raised the possibility of building bigger signs with a more legible blue color scheme.
Péwé could not be reached for comment.
Councilman Bill Zeiser said he hopes the controversy surrounding the signs will eventually have positive effects and get more people involved in local government.
“I think we have a problem that a lot of cities have, and that’s a lack of citizen input,” he said. “My hope is that this idea will help bring more people into participating in government. I think that’s more important than whatever ends up happening with the sign.”