BEDFORD — The issue of civic signs bearing names of Bedford organizations divided town officials Tuesday, resulting in a 4-3 vote to restore two of the three structures that were recently removed.
Two such signs on East Main Street and Blue Ridge Avenue near their intersections with U.S. 460 recently were swapped for new signs commemorating Liberty High School’s varsity girls’ softball team for its recent state championship season, according to Town Manager Bart Warner.
The measure was unpopular among some residents, which led Bedford Town Council to revisit the matter at its meeting Tuesday, Warner said. After some debate, Mayor Steve Rush and members Stacey Hailey, Tim Black and Bruce Johannessen voted to put the two signs back up and place the new signs elsewhere in town. Council members Bob Wandrei, Bryan Schley and Darren Shoen opposed.
A civic sign on U.S. 221 at the entrance into town coming from the Forest and Goode areas was not removed.
Shoen said he understands the importance of local government promoting civic groups in town but asked why council couldn’t hand the oversight over to the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce and let it make determinations regarding those signs.
“That way it’s privately run and off our plate,” said Shoen, later adding of managing the signs: “I don’t see it as our mandate. It caused a huge stir [when] this happened.”
Wandrei said he feels the town government should get out of the business of choosing where to place such signs.
“I don’t think we ought to get into picking winners and losers,” Wandrei said.
Black said council has heard “loud and clear” from community members that they like and want the civic signs. He said he could live with either the town or the private sector managing them and added the town should have a protocol in place to include more organizations if they want.
“I’m here to represent the community,” Black said. “If they want it, I think we need to find a way to do it.”
Johannessen said he believes the town government can’t walk away from the signs that play a role in promoting Bedford.
“The seven members are here to promote this town and we need to do that the very best way. Part of that is showing the civic groups here,” he said. “Every time someone rides into town you see those signs and know there’s civic activity. ... Quite frankly, I think the signs add to this town.”
He said in the past, brush has grown to where signs couldn’t be read and he has personally gone in to clear the brush.
“How is it not our business?” Johannessen asked during the debate. “Are we promoting this town or are we not?”
Hailey said he would like to see another sign on Virginia 122 near Liberty Lake Park. “That’s a major artery into town,” Hailey said.
Rush suggested the signs honoring the Liberty High School team be placed near the entrance into Virginia 122 from the U.S. 221 corridor, which is the gateway to the school.
“Civic signs are an important part of our community,” Rush said in his support of putting the signs back up. “They represent community pride and involvement.”
He said the motto on the signs describing Bedford as the “Word’s Best Little Town,” even when it had a run as a city, is part of the town’s identity.
“It will always be known as the world’s best little town to many Bedford citizens,” Rush said.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.