An exchange on the topic of municipal advertising between members of Mayor Michael Nutter's administration and members of City Council became heated during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Council President Darrell Clarke has long been pushing the city to generate additional revenue by leasing ad space on city-owned property – which could be anything from municipal vehicles and bus shelters to the facades of city buildings.
But Managing Director Richard Negrin – who was two weeks ago appointed oversight leader of the city's response to municipal advertising – contended the process is not simple.
He said while a Request For Proposals for vendors seeking to advertise on city-owned vehicles will be issued within the next two weeks, the legal aspects of allowing the city to lease advertising space on municipal buildings won't likely be hammered out until the end of this year.
"The issues are something like this: When you make a decision to advertising on a building, depending on what the building is – let's say a rec center – are you comfortable allowing someone like the adult industry to advertise?" Negrin said.
When Clarke responded the city would determine ad content – with XXX spots a definite "no" – Negrin replied, "The concern is, does that set us up for a legal lawsuit?
"And what's happened in other jurisdictions is when you start to restrict the ability and start to pick advertisers in a certain way and set limits – and this is not what we believe – but they claim we're infringing upon their First Amendment rights to advertise like everybody else," he continued, noting Phoenix is currently embroiled in such legislation over its municipal advertising program.
"It would be a sad irony if we, in an effort to raise quick revenue, cost the city more in litigation as we go through this process," Negrin said.
Clarke shot back, "Mr. Negrin, that's the most ridiculous policy I've ever heard of."
Negrin went on to detail a litany of steps forward the city has taken over the past two weeks, including initiating an advertising content policy through the city Law Department, studying best practices in other cities who lease ad space, asking the Office of Innovation and Technology to help create digital advertising strategies and establishing a multidisciplinary working group that will hold bi-weekly committee meetings and create various subcommittees to delve more deeply into specific issues.
"You've laid out a very interesting process with the subcommittees and task force and all the other things," Clarke responded.
"In my long tenure in government ... traditionally, when people don't want to do something, they either tell you they're not going to do it or they set up a bunch of committees and task forces and they continue to wear you down. I hope that's not what's happening, because you set up a very complicated process for all of this."
Negrin responded the Nutter administration is "fully supportive" of the municipal advertising effort and "committed" to working in partnership with City Council to make it happen.