October 24, 2021

Sign-law issues simmer

Photo by Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A campaign sign for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sits Wednesday in a yard on Owego Street in Cortland. City officials will review the city's sign law following complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cortland officials plan to review and amend the city’s sign law after the ACLU complained the law doesn’t give guidance on certain political topics — such as Black Lives Matter.

The announcement was brought up this week during a Common Council meeting, where Corporation Counsel Ric VanDonsel, said he had received a letter in December from the state division of the American Civil Liberties Union that was challenging the city’s law.

The ACLU said the law doesn’t give guidance to signs with phrases, such as Black Lives Matter, and that the city’s limit of only allowing two candidate signs is too limited because several offices can be up for election at the same time.

The letter came following complaints city residents made before the 2020 general election. They were cited for breaking the city’s code allowing a maximum of two campaign or political signs as multiple races were occurring, Cortland County Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) said Wednesday.

Harbin reached out to both the Common Council asking the enforcement of the law be withheld — which it has — and reached out to groups like the state division of the ACLU.

Town to address sign law, too
The town of Cortlandville had similar complaints about its sign ordinance last year that resulted in the town suspending enforcement of its code in August.

Town code states that political signs for a candidacy for election can be posted no more than 45 days before the last day of voting, to be removed within 14 days after the election, though many political signs were up before the 2020 General Election and remained up beyond 14 days after.

No action has been taken on the town’s code, but is one of the top agenda items to address this year, said town Supervisor Tom Williams.

Colin Spencer

Aldermen Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) and Jacki Chapman (D-5th Ward) and City Clerk Ray Parker agreed to meet with VanDonsel to go over the letter from the ACLU, review its points, see if they can bring ideas for a solution back to a future Common Council meeting.

“We’re going to take a look again and see if we can make it a little more constitutional,” VanDonsel said.

City code allows for up to two campaign or political signs per property, though they must be removed within 30 days of the election.

Despite this, political signs can still be seen around the city.

Penalty for violating this law is a fine between $25 and $50, VanDonsel said.

The city, however, is generally pretty lax about enforcing this as most complaints stem from neighbors with opposing political views, VanDonsel said.

The city, he added, is more concerned about whether signs cause safety problems, such as interfering with traffic or other government signs.

“Really, we want to make sure they don’t get in the way of traffic,” he said.