Georgia paper's off-campus newspaper box plan delayed by city of Atlanta

GEORGIA — The Georgia State student newspaper’s attempt to add off-campus newspaper boxes downtown has been delayed by Atlanta officials because the boxes do not comply with the city’s ordinances.

The Signal requested a permit in June to place several newspaper boxes in downtown areas near other publications’ boxes. Officials responded in late July with the permit and current ordinances, but said the ordinances were in the process of changing.

The newspaper was looking to expand circulation into the city because they wanted to reach a larger audience, but its staff have not received a clear explanation of the new ordinances. Staff said they’re confused about how to comply with the regulations and haven’t received much guidance from the city.

“Basically it’s been a hassle with this,” said Chris Shattuck, the paper’s student marketing manager. “We’ve been trying to reach out to them for a month and half, and when they replied back to us they said ‘we’re changing our policies anyways, trying to set-up a more coherent stand policy.’”

Wahab Alabi, chief traffic engineer of Atlanta’s Department of Public Works, said that Central Atlanta Progress, a private downtown development group, is developing a new standard for publication boxes, but did not provide the details of what the new standards entail.

Without the permit, the paper would face a $1,000 fine per box per day if it were to put its new boxes out, said Nursef Kedir, an official with the public works department.

The planned area of the news box expansion is located in the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, where special rules on newspaper boxes apply. The city’s ordinance requires boxes to be a specific shade of green and either a Sho-Rack galvanized metal model or an equivalent to be placed in the district, among other requirements.

The Signal’s boxes are blue – one of the school’s colors – and made of plastic. The boxes feature the paper’s newly designed logo on the front.

While waiting for information from the city, the paper went ahead and ordered new boxes to match its existing ones.

“When we originally applied, they sent us the old rules,” said Bryce McNeil, the paper’s faculty adviser. “We should have read these before we bought the devices. On the other hand, I have seen devices in the city that don’t meet these requirements.”

There are other newspaper boxes that do not meet the city’s ordinance located in the district, including boxes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Atlanta Business Chronicle and Creative Loafing.

“I am sure there are some there,” Kedir said of the non-conforming newspaper boxes. “They were there before the ordinance took place.”

The original ordinance was passed in 1996 as part of the city’s efforts to improve the downtown area ahead of the 1996 Summer Olympics, and received a minor update in 2001.

McNeil said the staff is waiting to hear back from someone on what exactly they can do about the boxes, and hopes the paper’s questions will be cleared up Thursday in a meeting with Alabi. The paper’s permit application was submitted on Aug. 22.

“I want to know why we aren’t compliant,” McNeil said. “If at that point they don’t tell us, then they just don’t want us to put vending machines up, and that’s not fair.”

The public works commissioner is responsible for approving permits and has 30 days to respond to each application. If a permit is denied, the reason must be be specified and the paper can appeal the decision to the commissioner. McNeil said the paper had not heard back on the status of the its application.

“Any type of regulation of publications has to pass the test of reasonableness,” said Frank LoMonte, the Student Press Law Center’s executive director. “There has to be some basis for removal. You definitely can’t lawfully pick and choose amongst which media you allow.”

By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.