The traditional but often unsightly mess of roadside election signs could become a thing of the past under a Tauranga City Council move to ban signs from public land.
The council yesterday swung behind Mayor Stuart Crosby's bid to only allow signs on private properties in the lead-up to council elections.
Mr Crosby said Tauranga looked a shambles compared with Rotorua, which did not allow signs on public land. The difference between the two cities during last year's council elections was "like night and day" and signs in Tauranga were getting out of control.
The vote was won 8-3, with the group dubbed "pick three" opposing - Crs Rick Curach, Murray Guy and Catherine Stewart.
Cr Bill Faulkner said he used to be part of the brigade that defaced the city but had "seen the error of my ways" years ago.
He supported the move on the basis that he could also see the other side of the argument that it suppressed democracy. Cr Faulkner said he was not hard and fast on any point of view and looked forward to public submissions because it could result in a half-way house decision.
The public will be given a month to respond to yesterday's draft policy to prohibit roadside signs on public land, with a final decision expected mid to late August. It will not affect signage for this year's General Election, which was controlled by legislation and not council bylaws.
Cr Guy called the move anti-democratic and complained that the council had only been given all or nothing options, whereas public concerns with messy signs could be met without going to the length of banning them.
Cr Bill Grainger also wondered if it was fair on new candidates who did not have the public profile of sitting councillors.
Mr Crosby responded: "There is nothing fair in an election."
He said some candidates had more resources than others, some had a higher public profile, some were connected to a group and some created their own group.
"I don't believe that signs create a level playing field. There are a lot of variables that come into the success of a particular candidate."
He said it was hypocritical that signs were allowed on public land during elections but not at any other time except for charitable organisations in fixed locations. It was clear that technology was the tool of the future for elections, offering a platform for candidates at very little or no cost. "Whatever we end up with, it will be better."
Cr Tony Christiansen also leaned towards stricter controls on signs, saying that six weeks was too long because it allowed signs to be vandalised and look tatty.
Cr Curach, whose quirky "Pick Rick' signs have become a feature of elections, wanted "the same ballgame" but for a shorter period than six weeks - several councillors suggested four weeks up to the eve of an election.
Cr Stewart said it was using a sledgehammer to kill a flea: "Or two fleas in this case."
She argued existing councillors had a competitive advantage at elections and newbies required a fair go. Roadside signs were a cheap and effective mechanism to promote themselves.
Cr Terry Molloy said the decision should be made by the public because, to some extent, councillors had a conflict of interest. Cr Larry Baldock felt that most people were pretty much past having signs in public places.
Under the council's new City Plan, election signs on private properties cannot exceed two metres in height or exceed 10 square metres in size.