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Franklin banner issue causes tempers to flare

fr bannersFranklin officials thought the controversy over banners would end when the board of aldermen passed an ordinance last year allowing them to be hung over Main Street to promote upcoming events.

Banners had been prohibited for many years in Franklin, but the new ordinance caused a stir at Monday night’s town meeting when a group of residents asked the town to promote the award Franklin received last fall from Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine as the “Top Small Town” in the Southeast. 

Matt Bateman, co-chairman of the Franklin Appalachian Trail Community Committee, asked the town if some kind of compromise could be made in order to leave the Top Small Town banner hanging over Main Street throughout the year when other events are not being promoted. 

“I would like to have a more in-depth discussion on the banner ordinance,” Bateman said. “I know it was a big step to get it into place, but you all probably weren’t thinking about getting this award that would need to be promoted long-term.”

The ordinance allows any group to promote an upcoming event in Franklin by hanging a banner no more than two weeks before the event. The ordinance also requires groups to have insurance on the event, which in turn would protect the town from any liability if the banner fell and damaged something. 

Bateman and others said they would like to see the banner hang for longer than two weeks and questioned whether an insurance policy should be required if there is no event included in the promotion of the banner. Since the award is given each year, Bateman said time was of the essence to promote it.

“January and February banner space was void — I would have loved to have the banner up during that time,” Bateman said. “I would love for town leadership to embrace this award.”

Mayor Bob Scott argued that it was an issue of fairness to all groups wanting to promote events with banners. He suggested the group purchase billboard space to promote the award. But then Scott started questioning how Franklin received the award. 

“What were the criteria to get this award?” he asked. 

Rob Gasbarro, co-owner of Outdoors 76 and co-chairman of the ATCC, said it was a voting process through Asheville-based Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, and Franklin received more than 100,000 votes to beat out 47 other small towns. 

“But how much money did you give the magazine?” Scott questioned. 

Scott was referring to Franklin businesses that were asked to buy discounted advertisements in the November 2015 issue of the magazine to run along with the story about Franklin winning the award. 

Once the town won the award, Gasbarro said the magazine did allow businesses to run discounted co-op ads in that issue, but it wasn’t a requirement to receive the award.

“So it was to sell ads,” Scott said. 

“No one put a gun to our heads,” Gasbarro said. 

“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Bateman said. 

Bringing the conversation back to the banners, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. said it wouldn’t be within the spirit of the ordinance to allow the banner to hang for more than two weeks or exempt the group from having an insurance policy. 

Alderman Joe Collins asked whether the town itself would be required to have insurance if it wanted to hang a banner. 

Henning confirmed that yes, the town had to follow its own ordinances. 

Alderman Brandon McMahan said maybe a billboard on the highway would be more appropriate to promote the award since people coming through downtown were already there and knew about the award. 

“It’s about education of the community — if we’re going to be an outdoor town, it takes community buy-in,” Bateman said.

Scott raised his voice again and asked Bateman to enlighten him on what the town is not doing to promote Franklin as an outdoor destination.

“We’ve done everything we can to promote Franklin as an outdoor town,” Scott said. 

Town Manager Summer Woodard said the ordinance did not prohibit the banner from going up — it only put a timeframe restriction on it. She said the town did have an ordinance review committee that could look into whether the rules should be changed or expanded to account for this type of promotion. 

Alderman Adam Kimsey suggested for Bateman to work with the town manager and the review committee to try to reach some kind of compromise. In the meantime, one of the banners to promote the award has made its way to dozens of businesses and will soon be displayed on the town hall front lawn.  

Bateman said his next plan of action to promote the award is to ask the Franklin Tourism Development Authority to allocate funding specifically to advertise Franklin as the Top Small Town.

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