Saturday, October 28, 2000

Political yard signs allowed, for now

Court intervenes in Mariemont, Indian Hill

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Zoning regulations in Mariemont and Indian Hill that ban political yard signs have been set aside — at least until Dec. 31.

        With the Nov. 7 election drawing close, Jo Ann Schartman and her husband didn't want to wait for officials in Mariemont to study whether a village ordinance banning political signs was constitutional.

        They wanted to show their support for the Gore/Lieberman ticket.

        So they sued.

        On Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott granted a temporary restraining order that allows residents in Mariemont and Indian Hill to post signs that show support for their political candidates.

        The order will remain in effect until the end of the year.

        “Now maybe people will feel free to put signs up in their yards,” Mrs. Schartman said.

        Both municipalities have ordinances banning political signs in private yards. Ms. Schartman said she and her husband went to Village Council on several occasions to protest the ordinance but had no luck in getting members to change their minds.

        Council members appointed a committee to look into the matter but were dragging their feet, she said.

        After Ms. Schartman and Winifred Boal of Indian Hill wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seeking help, the organization joined the two cases.

        Despite three visits from police officers, who informed Ms. Schartman that the signs were illegal and issued a citation, she kept them up.

        "The election was going to be gone before they did anything about this,” she said.

        Judge Dlott's decision cites a 1994 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a zoning ordinance, similar to the two at issue in Mariemont and Indian Hill, could validly prohibit someone from placing a political sign in a private yard.

        The court concluded unanimously that the signs could not be prohibited.

        "At least since 1994 it's been clear that a flat ban on residential signs by category is unconstitutional,” said Raymond Vasvari, legal director of the ACLU in Ohio.

        "It's been years that it's been absolutely clear.”

        Edward Dohrmann, Indian Hill mayor, said the ordinance has nothing to do with political signs. It's about maintaining the rural atmosphere of the area, he said.

        "I think we're going to appeal it,” he said. “That was the last word I heard from the city manager.”


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