Thursday, April 13, 2000

Fairfield changes sign ordinance

Council adopts new limits for political placards

BY Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — A change to the political sign ordinance here will increase the penalty by $75 for candidates who fail to remove signs in a timely manner after an election.

        The changes, which became effective Wednesday, are also aimed at getting candidates to stop erecting signs on public property and in rights of way. City Council members pushed for the changes after problems in past elections with the placement of political signs.

        City Council voted last month to change the ordinance, which also restricts the size of signs to 32 square feet. Previously, there was no size restriction.

        “Legally, I guess you could have put up a billboard sign for 30 days,” Council man Jeffrey Holtegel said. “I hope the impact is that it becomes a cleaner campaign in the next election.”

        The change raises the candidates' sign fee from $25 to $100. The city charges the fee to candidates before elections. If they do not remove their signs by 10 days after the election, they forfeit the money. The money also could be taken away if a candidate fails to remove a sign 24 hours after being notified that the sign is in a right of way or on public property.

        “I think there were one or two candidates who were blatant,” Mr. Holtegel said about November's election. “They stuck the signs anywhere and everywhere. They were told to remove the signs, and they didn't.”

        Councilman Ron D'Epifanio, who wanted the sign fee raised from $25 to $200, said the changes don't go far enough. He also wants the number of signs per yard reduced to two. Candidates currently can erect as many signs as they want.

        “I just felt it was an opportunity for us to make a difference. I thought we just put a Band-Aid on a major wound,” said Mr. D'Epifanio, who also complained about the clutter of signs in yards and rights of way and on city property. He was the only council member to vote against the revised sign ordinance.

        In Hamilton, candidates can erect as many signs as they want as long as the signs are no larger than 4 feet by 9 feet. Zoning laws, which regulate signs only on private property, say a private property owner or the person in charge of the property where a sign is erected could be cited to court for failing to obey the campaign sign law. Violators also could be fined $50 to $100 for each offense, said John West, Hamilton building and zoning administrator.

        In Cincinnati, political signs cans be as large as 32

        square feet. Candidates who don't comply with the ordinance face a $200 fine, said city spokeswoman Gina Ruffin-Moore. Fines can be reduced to $125 if the sign is removed. Signs smaller than 32 square feet can stay up anytime before or after the election, and it is illegal to erect signs in a right of way.

        Fairfield Planning Director Tim Bachman said the revised ordinance is intended “to clarify the issues of the size, regulation and what happens when they are placed illegally. Time will tell if the modifications were a success or not.”

        Mr. Holtegel said City Council also instructed the city staff to clarify how the revised sign ordinance will be enforced because the policy was unclear to candidates in past elections.

        “It's not a fix-all, but it's probably a little bit better,” Mr. Holtegel said. “It's just going to explain it a little bit better.”


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