Sign skirmish is latest in seven-year legal fight

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

UPPER TOWNSHIP – The township will defend its zoning officer in court Thursday for removing a business yard sign it says was in the public right of way.

 Resident Jon Kevin Grubb filed a complaint with the State Police after Upper Township zoning officer Shelley Lea took a landscaping sign from in front of his father’s property on Rt. 50 in Petersburg. Grubb denies that the sign was in the public right of way, and said he should have received a notice in the mail before the sign was confiscated.

Attorney Norman Briggs, who is representing Lea for the township, said she removed the sign as part of her job. He said signs are removed from the public right of way all the time.

The court hearing is scheduled for Thursday, March 14 in Stone Harbor. The case was moved from Upper Township court because of a conflict of interest.

The skirmish over the sign is just the latest chapter in a seven-year legal battle between Grubb and Upper Township.

Grubb, a former truck driver for the township, has been involved in court proceedings and civil service hearings with the township since his termination in 2005 for alleged insubordination and unbecoming conduct.

Over the years, the township has racked up $100,000 in legal bills because of the case, said Mayor Richard Palombo.

Upper Township has been represented by outside labor counsel in the case and has won at every level so far, according to township solicitor Dan Young. The case is on its final appeal now, he said.

“We’ve won every time,” Young said. “His fourth appeal is still waiting. That’s the last appeal.”

Palombo said the township does not back down from legal fights just because of the cost. It’s been successful in many recent legal battles, including keeping the B.L. England power plant open and the Strathmere de-annexation, that were critical to Upper Township, he said.

“We’re going to defend ourselves if we think we’re in the right,” he said. “You see a lot of towns settle these types of cases. I think that invites more of those kinds of lawsuits.

“It’s frustrating that you can win at every level and it just keeps going,” he added.

Grubb said he believes the township confiscated the sign because it is frustrated with his latest appeal of his termination. The sign was for a landscaping business he recently started, he said.

“I made sure the sign was not in the right of way,” Grubb said. “It was well back from the property line. It wasn’t obstructing any view. It was a 15-by-30 yard sign. But it had my name on it.”

Grubb said he went to Township Hall when the sign went missing and Lea said she had removed it. He was told he could recover the sign in a dumpster behind Township Hall.

After the meeting, he went to file a complaint with the State Police and was told Lea had removed the sign as part of her duties as zoning officer. A few days later he received a violations notice requiring him to pay a fine. He then went back to the State Police and filed a complaint, Grubb said.

“I’ve asked for photographs or some evidence showing that the sign was in the right of way,” he said. “They say they don’t have any pictures. They didn’t measure anything. How do you know it’s in the right of way then?”

Briggs said Lea regularly removes advertising and other signs from township properties if they are in the right of way or block motorists’ lines of sight. He called the matter routine.

“It’s unfortunate it has gotten this far,” Briggs said. “Our defense is that this is part of her job. She wasn’t stealing someone’s sign.”

Briggs said it’s his understanding that the removed signs are usually thrown in the dumpster behind Township Hall.

When the pending case was raised during public comment at the Monday, March 11 meeting of Upper Township Committee, officials stood by Lea’s actions.

Deputy Mayor Curtis Corson, Jr. said the township removes unsightly signs all the time. Most times they are signs or flyers for businesses nailed to utility poles or put in yards, he said.

When township employees report them, they are taken down soon after, he said.

Township engineer Paul Dietrich said Monday that he had half-a-dozen such signs in the back of his truck.

“They’re there right now,” he said.

Grubb said the signs’ owners should be notified before they are taken away, which he said the township’s ordinance requires. Briggs said he did not know if the township regularly notified people before removing signs.


blog comments powered by Disqus