City planners recommend change to political sign measure

By Joseph Slacian

The Wabash Plan Commission, for the second time in two months, approved a resolution recommending that the Wabash City Council update the city’s ordinance on political signs on Wednesday, April 4.

The commission approved the same resolution in March. However, it failed to have a public hearing on the matter, thus it had to reconsider the matter. It unanimously approved sending the matter to the City Council following the hearing, at which no one spoke for or against the matter.

The Council was expected to approve the measure on first reading when it met Monday night, April 9.

The new ordinance will bring the city’s ordinance in line with state statutes, commission attorney Doug Lehman explained.
Prior to 60 days before the election, as well as six days following the election, political signs shall not exceed 10 square feet in area.

Signs are also is not to be located between the sidewalk and curb, and, in the case of properties without sidewalks, it is not to be located less than eight feet from the paved edge of the street.

“The state statute basically says that we cannot control the size or the number of political signs between a date 60 days prior to an election, and six days after,” Lehman told the commission. “During that period of time, you can have as many political signs that you want, and you can have them almost any size that you want.

“The statute does, however, permit you to regulate their placement so as to prevent those signs from interfering with line of sight at corners that would make it dangerous to pull out into an intersection into traffic, that sort of thing.”

Candidates also must receive a property owner’s permission to place a sign, he added. In addition, signs cannot be placed on any government owned land.

“The government does not endorse any political candidate so if you’re a political candidate you don’t want it to appear that a governmental unit is endorsing you, so there shouldn’t be a sign for Joe Schmoe taped to the front door of City Hall,” Lehman said.

While the ordinance is being brought in line with the state, Lehman warned that it “still may not be constitutional.”

“State statute says you can limit the number of political signs and the size of political signs more than 60 days prior to an election,” he said. “I suspect that if anyone wanted to challenge that, that would eventually be held unconstitutional because it’s free speech.

“but, again, we’re conforming with the state law, and more than anything else, we’re making it clear that you have to have the consent of a property owner, you can’t interfere with line of sight … the whole idea is to keep clutter out.
“At least all the candidates will know that our ordinance is in conformity with the state law, and there shouldn’t be any ambiguity as to which one you have to follow.”

Commission member Pat Lynn asked if there was a penalty for violating the measure.

Lehman said there was no fine associated with the measure.

“Basically, John (Stephens, building commissioner), or Kipp (Cantrell, code enforcement officer) can go out and say, ‘You’re not supposed to do that. Take those signs down.’ Or, ‘Don’t put those signs up yet.’

“I’m not sure that we’ve ever gone out and said, ‘Hey, you can’t put that sign up because it’s too early.’ I’m sure there may have been a few instances in which we’ve called someone and said, ‘Hey, the election’s over, don’t you think it’s time to take the sign down?”

Assistant Building Commissioner Terri Wilburn said the department did make some calls recently about the placement of some signs.

She also reiterated that the state is taking signs down that are in state right of ways.
Commission Chair Karl Rider asked if the measure would regulate commercial billboards which, he noted, are larger than 10 square feet.

Lehman said commercial billboards are regulated by other provisions of the sign ordinance.

“If you buy space on a commercial billboard, I don’t think it comes under this ordinance,” he said.  “I think we’re talking about a sign that is placed somewhere specifically for an election, as opposed to someone buying space on a sign that is always there.”

Posted on 2018 Apr 10