Desoto County News

Sign ordinance, judge appointments pass in Hernando

The Hernando Board of Aldermen Tuesday night considered a new sign ordinance and appointed new municipal judges after the current judge has chosen to step away after 25 years on the city bench.  

Planning Director Austin Cardosi returned a new sign ordinance back to the board Tuesday night for a vote, after its introduction at a previous meeting. The ordinance addresses limits on signage and banners along city streets, signs such as real estate, event, promotional and political signs. It also looks at the number of signs that can be placed, their size and duration at the location. 

Cardosi said the proposal had received little public comment since its introduction, but there were concerns about restrictions on some promotional signs for businesses.

“I know we’ll get some backlash for that,” said Alderwoman Beth Rone Ross, with Alderman Ben Piper adding he did not want to see added regulations placed on city small businesses, “trying to make it.” 

However, Mayor Chip Johnson responded by saying, ““The purpose (of the ordinance) is not to be mean to businesses or homeowners. When we did this ordinance originally, Hernando was overrun with signs and citizens were saying they were sick of them. That’s what this is about, not about restricting speech, but protecting property values.”  

Johnson said studies have shown that a multiple of signs on a property actually hurts the property’s value.  The city’s original sign ordinance was passed more than 10 years ago, Cardosi said.  

“I’m for it but I don’t want it to have a negative impact on our small businesses and what they offer,” Rone Ross said. 

Cardosi called the ordinance a “moveable” document, meaning it can be changed or amended, which Johnson said he expected would happen as it goes into force.  

Alderman Anthony Miller also expected that changes would be made, for instance suggesting that the signs in front of businesses could only be up during business hours.  

“We can approve this tonight and as we go through and talk to business owners and we see something that’s really affecting them, we can come back and make those changes,” Miller said.  “At least we have something to start working with.”  

The ordinance passed Tuesday night with Piper offering the only “no” vote.  

Another item on the agenda had little comment during the meeting but one of the aldermen chose to state his stance after the vote in an email statement. 

Municipal Judge Anthony Nowak formally announced during the board meeting that he would be stepping away from the bench as of the end of June.  Nowak is also the board attorney for the County Board of Supervisors and has been the Hernando Municipal Judge for 25 years. 

“It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 25 years,” Nowak said. “It’s gone by fast, it’s been a challenge and a pleasure, and it’s been an honor for me to serve the city of Hernando. I’ve had an amazing staff for the past 25 years and because of their efforts, I really believe that we have one of the best municipal courts in the state.”  

Following Nowak’s comments, the board went ahead and without discussion voted to appoint Adam Bowdre Emerson as City Judge, and Robert Reid Morris III as City Judge Pro-Tempore, both effective June 30. 

Morris is the former District Attorney appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves following the death of John Champion to serve the remainder of Champion. He then ran for election to a full term as District Attorney in the new 23rd Judicial District formed in redistricting to only include DeSoto County. However, Morris lost the Republican primary to current District Attorney Matthew Barton.  

There was no discussion about the appointments during the board meeting. However, Alderman Chad Wicker issued a statement after the vote expressing his position, noting he has seen the social media “chatter” about the appointments, especially about Morris.  

“I appreciate the spotlight our municipal court appointment has garnered on social media, indicating our citizens’ concern for crime prevention and community well-being,” Wicker said. “While I may not fully agree with all viewpoints expressed, I believe we all share the common goal of seeking what’s best. Having worked closely with Mr. Morris and Mr. Emerson for over a decade, I can attest to their integrity as both skilled attorneys and upstanding individuals. I am confident they will serve the community of Hernando admirably, upholding the high standards set by Judge Nowak over his 25-year tenure.”