County Board sued over decision to remove east side billboards

County Board sued over decision to remove east side billboards

The Dane County Board is facing a lawsuit after a local company says they improperly voted to end a land lease and to remove three billboards.

Adams Outdoor Advertising filed a lawsuit in Dane County Court Monday regarding an April vote about three east side billboards along Aberg Avenue. The billboards stand over the bike path, but are on property owned by Dane County.

Adams general manager Todd McWilliams said he believes the billboards have been there for more than 40 years.

“We’ve signed a lease with the airport every five years for that time period,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams said two county committees early this year recommended renewal of the lease, which says that Adams pays the Dane County Airport $35,000 a year for the space. Adams has also provided some free advertising to the airport.

But in April, the full county board voted 18-16 not to renew the lease.

“There aren’t many businesses that would turn down $40,000 and $60,000 in advertising on principle,” McWilliams said. “Supervisor Rusk is one person who has decided he doesn’t like billboards.”

Email records obtained by Adams show Supervisor Paul Rusk asking fellow county board members what they thought about the billboards, saying “the airport doesn’t need the money” and that “this stretch would look much better without them.”

He emailed fellow board members and neighborhoods to get their input, including asking some associations to issue votes against the billboards. Two neighborhood associations did that, but the Carpenter-Ridgeway Neighborhood Association did not issue an opinion. The billboards are located in Carpenter-Ridgeway.

In one email, the neighborhood association president said “Personally, I don’t mind them. I walk the bike path along Aberg often and welcome the light the signs provide at night.”

Adams is alleging in their lawsuit that Rusk may have violated open meetings laws to count votes.

“It’s not like we want to have a lawsuit,” McWilliams said. “We would like to have a conversation where we could have another fair vote.”

McWilliams is also alleging that multiple supervisors from Fitchburg should have recused themselves from voting on the measure because Adams has a pending lawsuit in Fitchburg over a billboard there as well.

Rusk declined an on-camera interview with News 3 Tuesday, citing the pending litigation.

In an email from County Corporation Counsel Marcia MacKenzie, which Rusk provided, MacKenzie has advised all supervisors not to speak with Adams, with the media or among themselves about the litigation.

“I have reviewed and investigated the claims and determined they have no merit,” MacKenzie said in the email. “Neither Supervisor Rusk nor Supervisor Krause had a conflict of interest that would require them to recuse themselves. In fact, some supervisors appropriately recused themselves at the meeting. There was one instance of failure to recuse, but it does not bolster Adams’ claim. Finally there was no walking quorum nor is there any substance to the other claims.”

MacKenzie said the supervisors “have all had training on ethics and open meetings rules” and are careful about abiding by those rules.

County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan also declined an interview Tuesday, citing the litigation.

Adams said they were sent a letter telling them to take down the billboards in June, but they noted that the county board had already cashed the previously sent checks for the annual lease. After threatening legal action, the county said Adams can continue to post the billboards until the end of the year.