December 5, 2021

Cortlandville amends political sign rules in zoning law

Signs become issue

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

The town of Cortlandville recently ruled this lawn sign acceptable, though town law prohibits political lawn signs except between 45 days before an election and 14 days after one.

Five months after Republicans cried foul when Democrats put up campaign lawn signs early — citing a vaguary of town lawn created when early voting came to New York — the Town of Cortlandville revised its political sign law.

The Cortlandville Town Board voted unanimously this week to allow signs 45 days before the last day of voting, rather than 45 days before “election day,” which is traditionally the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Two people spoke at a public hearing: two of the people responsible for inspiring the change — former Cortland County Legislature candidate Pamela Jenkins and former town board candidate Bob Martin, Jenkins’ husband. Jenkins hopes the change pushes some of her neighbors to remove their President Donald Trump signs until next September.

Jenkins said this week she heard complaints from town residents — and the GOP — for putting up signs supporting Democratic candidates 45 days before early voting, rather than the November election day.

Signs for Trump’s re-election, though, have been placed in yards around her neighborhood well in advance of this year’s presidential election, she said, on both Kinney Gulf Road and Woodside Road.

“Trump is a candidate for 2020 election,” she said. “Why are the signs up now?”

According to Chapter 178, Article XVIII, Section 178-112A(4) and A(5) of the town zoning code, temporary signs for the election of candidates in the town’s business, agricultural, and industrial districts or residential districts can’t be posted earlier than 45 days before an election and must be taken down 14 days after.

The amendment adds the sentence, “For purposes of this section, ‘election’ shall mean the earliest date by which a vote total can be tabulated exclusive of absentee ballots” to subsections regarding temporary election signs supporting candidates, according to town documents.

Town Board member Douglas Withey said he wasn’t sure on the use of permits for putting up signs but will look into it.

Additionally, he hopes the amendment will prevent potential conflict over when to put up signs in the future.

“As long as it’s straight across the board for everybody, that’s life,” he said. “That’s what democracy is.”

Since seeing the signs up, Jenkins said she has spoken with Town Attorney John DelVecchio and Code Officer Desiree Campbell to complain about the Trump signs.

Campbell said in an email to Jenkins that the homeowners with the signs up had been issued violation letters, but then applied for permits for their signs.

DelVecchio also said in an email to Jenkins that by applying for sign permits, the owners were in compliance with Table 2 of Section 178-113, which allows one non-illuminated free-standing or building-mounted sign of 2 square feet.

Neither Campbell nor DelVecchio could be reached for comment.

Maria Fragnoli-Ryan, who lives on Kinney Guld Road, said her Trump: Make America Great Again does not fall under the guidelines.

“This sign has nothing to do with the election,” she said. “It’s to support the president.”

Fragnoli-Ryan said she did have a Trump 2020 sign that had to be taken down for violating the law.

Her current sign was initially too big when put up and she was cited for that, as well. She has since cut it down and gotten a permit to have the sign up.

Jenkins has since brought up the issue at Town Board public hearings in February and on Tuesday.

Despite being a Democrat, Jenkins said that her complaint is not about partisanship. “Just apply them (laws) equally to everybody,” she said. “That’s all I ever ask.”