November 27, 2021

Cortland to revisit street painting rules

Mayor says Common Council must decide whether to allow practice to resume

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A faded yellow swath is all that remains of a Black Lives Matter street mural painted last July at Main and Court streets in Cortland. A moratorium enacted weeks later — after an effort to paint a Back the Blue mural a block away drew opposition — ends April 1.

As a seven-month postponement on street painting in Cortland is set to expire in April, city officials said they are open to creating new regulations.

The Cortland Common Council voted, 5-3, during its Sept. 1 meeting to remove a Black Lives Matter mural at the intersection of Main, West Court and Court streets and to hold off any new street paintings until April 1.

Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said at the meeting his decision to bring up the postponement was based on discussion around events including the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the protests against police brutality in Portland, Oregon.

The Black Lives Matter mural was painted last summer following the protests of police violence. After that mural was painted, a mural for Back the Blue mural was proposed on Court Street in front of the Cortland Police Department and initially approved before the Common Council voted against any street paintings until April.

In March, a shamrock was painted on Central Avenue in front of the St. Charles Hotel, coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day.

Tobin said Tuesday that whether the city will allow for street paintings again will be a decision made by the Common Council. He added the city code could be changed to allow for street painting, such as, for example, based upon approval by the council prior to painting, that need to be worked out.

“Having regulations makes sense and it needs to be clear what is and isn’t allowed,” he said.

Alderman Troy Beckwith (D-7th Ward) was one of the three aldermen who voted against the delay. He said Wednesday he voted in opposition to the delay as he wasn’t opposed to people being allowed to paint streets.

“I have no problem with street murals,” he said.

Beckwith added he would like to see a fee-less system in place for Common Council members to approve applications for street paintings before they are painted.

“I just think we need to get a firm policy in place,” he said.

If brought up soon, Beckwith said he would be in favor of voting on regulation or guidelines for street paintings “so people are allowed to do it.”

“We should have addressed all these at once, not push them back to a later date,” said Alderman Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) who voted against the delay last year.

Michales said he would welcome it to be raised again at Common Council meetings.

Back the Blue organizer William “Bud” Diescher said following September’s vote he was disappointed by the council’s decision and criticized Tobin for the resolution and the council for reversing its prior vote, saying the organization has spent a lot of money and time on the project and wondering if the city “was going to reimburse them for all of this.”

“I’m confused as to why the council is backtracking on the vote after everything we went through,” Diescher said then. “We followed the same guidelines and protocols as the BLM mural and now it’s suddenly not happening.”

Diescher could not be reached for comment Wednesday.