State homeland security officials have warned Vermillion County to stop using electronic emergency message boards to advertise fish fries, spaghetti dinners and other events.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which bought the 11 signs for $300,000, said the county could risk losing federal money. The county has stopped using the signs for the community announcements, and commissioners plan to discuss the matter next week.
The president of the County Commissioners said the Homeland Security Department is interfering with local governing.
"We run the county," Commissioner Tim Wilson said. "We make decisions to run the county on what's best for us. Did we misuse (the signs)? Or did we just run the county as we saw fit?"
Local officials say residents enjoyed the advertisements.
The Newport Chemical Depot, which is considered a potential terrorist target, is located in Vermillion County in western Indiana. In the case of an evacuation, the signs could flash routes for drivers to take. The message boards also could be used during floods or other natural disasters.
Using them for ads violates federal rules and could dull the public's attentiveness to the boards, said Eric Dietz, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Local officials said the signs do get people's attention.
Ramon Colombo, director of Vermillion County Emergency Management, said sponsors of a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser and an elementary school carnival reported larger-than-normal turnouts after message board ads.
The Cayuga volunteer fire department, where Wilson is chief, used the messages to promote its fish fry.