Hey, Why Don't Politicians Pay for Their Signs?

Town Zoning Officer Joe Chapman explains why political signs are exempt from temporary sign permits and fees, and outlines what restrictions do exist.

Red and blue lawn signs for the 2011 municipal election are already popping up around town. Unlike other temporary signs for events such as tag sales, no permit — or $5 registration fee — is required. This has made some town residents wonder why political candidates are exempt.

"It can be considered a free speech issue," Zoning Enforcement Officer Joe Chapman said of political signs Monday. "It's essentially a once a year event. Political signs are exempt from certain restrictions and are not restricted by size or number."

Among some of the restrictions, Chapman said it has to be identifiable as a political sign, it may be up for 45 days before the election and must be taken down within seven days afterward. Often times winning politicians post signs thanking those who voted for them after the outcome has been decided.

Political signs may not be placed on public property such as the grounds at Monroe Town Hall nor on the Monroe and Stepney greens.

"They can be placed on a private property with the owner’s consent, at least 10 feet from the curb line," Chapman said.

As a rule of thumb, 10 feet from a road is considered the public right of way, according to Chapman.

The ZEO said the town instituted the $5 fee for other temporary to control the number and volume. "They were out of control before," Chapman said.

It should be noted that those fees only apply to off-site signs. For instance, if someone posts a tag sale sign in their yard, no registration nor fee is necessary. It is only for signs that are off-site.

Political Signs

Chapman said he sent a letter out to both the Republican and Democratic town committee chairs at around Sept. 22 informing them that political signs are exempt from permits, but letting them know about the town guidelines.

When there are violations, Chapman said he takes a photo to document it before removing the sign. About a week after his initial letter, the ZEO said he sent a second letter letting town political leaders know they can stop by his Town Hall office to pick up those signs right up to Election Day.

Most towns and cities have some guidelines in place for political signs, according to Chapman.

He said, "I would be hard pressed to find a community that doesn't have some guidelines on political signs."

jim laguardia October 03, 2011 at 08:49 PM
I call B.S.
Annie N October 03, 2011 at 09:33 PM
I think this whole sign law thing is silly .. BUT.. I noticed several political signs across from the Big Y driveway and they were not 10 feet from the road, should we be reporting these violations to the ZEO?
Anna J October 03, 2011 at 09:53 PM
For real? The candidates pay nothing? The schools advertise events like the Monroe El Pumpkin Fair, Jr High and High School plays, etc, and they have to plunk down their 5$ (which presumably comes from PTO funds or taxpayer $). These are "once a year" events as well, so what gives? I'm sure the MRTC and MDTC have $5 to put down for each candidate. It should absolutely be a requirement-- especially when their signs are so much more numerous and clutter the landscape for an even longer period than signs for tag sales or school events. I understand "free speech", but an advertisement is an advertisement. Time to revisit this permit requirement. BS, indeed!
DawnV October 03, 2011 at 10:18 PM
If we have to pay for and get permits for a simple Tag Sale, then all should do the same... after all, how many times are the political signs left up long after the election, not to mention all the other signs posted for various events left up for some time afterward.
rgrychak October 04, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Look it is simple, they write the rules(laws) in our town so why not exclude themselves from paying 5 bucks for the sign. Most of all I would like to ask ALL POLITICIAN (and not but the one who have their signs all overpoluting our town) to step up to the plate and show us that you are with the rest of the people CEREMONIOUSLY PAY 5 $ FOR THE SIGN(S)
Sheila D October 04, 2011 at 12:35 AM
So after reading this article, as I was driving around town, I noticed most of the Phyllis Kansky signs that were up yesterday are now missing. Every Enid Lipeles sign (nothing personal) is still up. Those are really the two that I have primarily soon with a few others scattered in. Both candidates signs were on private property, but the Kansky signs were missing. Is there a reason for that? I can post at least 7 private properties where Enid's signs are less than 10 feet from the road (again, nothing personal). Since it's on private property, I would like to think the ZEO shouldn't have any precedent over it. Someone else mentioned the Monroe Elementary Pumpkin Fair signs, and my question is are all those on private property 10 feet from the road as well ? Again, not being political, nor personal, just trying to figure out why the different treatment for candidates, events, etc... If you're going to have a rule/law, then follow it judiciously, unceremoniously and most of all, equally.
Michele Mount October 04, 2011 at 12:42 AM
The constitution protects commercial speech from unwarranted governmental regulation. Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557, (1980). However, commercial speech is afforded less constitutional protection than other constitutionally protected expression. Id., 562. Speech relating to a commercial transaction is traditionally subject to government regulation. Id., 563. Signs that react to a local happening or express a view on a controversial issue both reflect and animate change in the life of a community. Often placed on lawns or in windows, residential signs play an important part in political campaigns, during which they are displayed to signal the resident's support for particular candidates, parties, or causes. They may not afford the same opportunities for conveying complex ideas as do other media, but residential signs have long been an important and distinct medium of expression. City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43, (1994)
Michele Mount October 04, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Part 2 That is why the law protects political signs and not commercial signs. I am just stating the law for public information. Nevertheless, I believe that charging schools and religious institutions for signs is wrong. They provide valuable services to the community and the schools are taxpayer funded. You can't ban political signs as determined by countless US Supreme Court decisions however; I would support and participate in a gentleperson's agreement not to display them. That agreement however, could not be enforced. I pledge to not to put any political signs out this season, but that is just me. I support anyone else's right if they choose to.
Joey October 04, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Looks like he was ordered to take down all blue signs and leave the red ones up. Lipeless signs are still standing but all the Kansky signs are down. Now I wonder who could be behind this?
Anna J October 04, 2011 at 01:36 AM
Now, now, Joey...let's not go getting our garanimals in a knot, here. Focus, people, focus! (Really, pal...you must have been just tortured on the playground as a kid.) There should be an equal application of this permit requirement to all residents, whether they are selling their used crap at a tag sale or selling their political crap to constituents. Mrs. Mount did raise an interesting thought...why aren't schools and religious institutions exempt from this?
Mitchell October 04, 2011 at 01:43 AM
Michelle, Thanks for taking the time to research those cases. Now if you devoted that much time to ATTENDING Town Council meetings..................................................................................
Mitch Beck October 04, 2011 at 02:34 AM
I don't have any sort of "official ruling" on this Anna, I'm just posting a guess, (and I might be wrong) but what makes the most amount of sense to me is these events be they for the schools or for some church somewhere are fundraising...in other words they are doing it for "profit." Therefore if it's for "profit" then truly it's a business transaction and thus they are being treated in the same manner that any other business enterprise would be treated. Just a guess, but it seems fair to me and makes sense anyway... rgrychak...it's also the same sort of reason why politicians should not be charged. That is not for profit. The vast majority of them are running for non-paying, and theoretically for a non-profit transaction. People running for volunteer positions to serve this community are already shelling out a few thousand dollars as it stands. I know you'd likely say what's $5 more, but to me it's the principle of the thing, not the $5. Lastly, can we PLEASE put a halt right now to what looks like is being posed as yet another one of these pointless and community dividing conspiracy theories? I don't have an answer as to why these signs are "missing." But I'm sure there's a logical reason that does NOT point to some vast conspiracy. Let's allow more rational thinking here folks...it REALLY isn't hard to do...
QWERTY October 04, 2011 at 03:13 AM
If I consent to a campaigner, allowing him/her to place a sign on my property and they place it in violation, I can get in trouble? Two years ago, I tried to be a good neighbor allowing one of my neighbors to place campaign signs all over my curb, I'm pretty sure they violated the "10 feet" rule. Now I'll have to tell him NO since it's against the law.
Michele Mount October 04, 2011 at 12:42 PM
It actually took me 5 mins to research that. You are correct, I apologize that I have missed a couple meetings, as much as love being involved in town, my family's health and welfare come first. I have also started practicing law and have been working 24/7 on a couple of cases; one of which I will argue in the Supreme Court this month that involves the rights of local boards of education. It has been due to work and family obligations. That is not excuse but the facts. I always stay current with the issues and speak out on important issues. So if you are upset, it is your prerogative.
Todd Fox October 04, 2011 at 01:40 PM
I actually spoke with the zoning officer about this issue last week. He seemed very professional about the whole business, and showed no bias to one party or the other. He said that if anybody finds a sign which they believe is in violation of the rules concerning political signs, that they should call the office at 203 452-2816. If you leave a message and give the address where the offending sign has been posted he will drive over and check to see if it is in compliance. If the sign is on public property he will give the poster the opportunity to move it. Actually, I think that Chapman has gone out of his way to be even-handed about this issue. He told both parties that he may remove political signs which are posted in a way which violate town and state regulations, but he will not throw them out. The parties can come to the office and pick their signs up and post them again—hopefully this time on private property. That seems fair to me—in fact it seems like he's going out of his way to be fair about this.
Patrick O'Hara October 04, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Thanks Todd-It is good to hear this. I have personally been happy with Joe's work since joining Monroe. One piece that might also be of interest is that over the years the two parties have had a sort of gentleman's agrement on signs. Simply put it had to do with # of days before the election, get permission to place and be safe with placement. Pretty simple guidelines and it has worked for the decade I had been doing signs. What usually happens is a few signs end up in the wrong spot for whatever reason and those signs get corrected by party leadership. I can tell you I have moved Republican signs before for the good of everybody. Nobody wins if government regulations need be applied.
dolphinlover October 04, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Well, I would like to leave my two cents here.Since the town allows only 4 signs, I think the politicians should pay for any signs over four that they display. This would increase revenue for the town and they could use it towards the education budget they cut down every year or use it to add to the town parks for fields or anything else that is needed. If the politicians are running to make a difference in the town this would be a great way to show it. If they paid even a nomimal fee of $2-3 per sign per candidate, the town would benefit by at least $ 200 or more (assuming each candidate put up at least 100signs). Maybe the town should rethink their sign policy. I for one would rather see a few tag sale signs up rather than the overabundance of political signs that inundate us every fall.
Christine E. October 04, 2011 at 03:19 PM
Ms. Mount, given the previous article outlining the denial of Mr. Paniccia's Inland Wetlands Appointment, you must realize why some people might be peeved at the fact that you were not in attendance at that meeting. A man was denied the ability to be involved in town government without as much as having the courtesy of the entire Town Council to be present. It sounds by your own explaination that you are grossly overwhelmed with the many things you have going on in your life. That is understandable - however, holding a seat on Town Council while you cannot consider Town Government a priority is a disservice to our town.
QWERTY October 04, 2011 at 04:12 PM
"he will drive over" Who pays for the gas? If it's the town, then isn't it best to just leave the sign in violation?
Designated Hitter October 04, 2011 at 04:21 PM
If a person is running for a position that is on a volunteer basis, e.g., Board of Ed, signs should be free. If a person is running for a compensated position, e.g., first selectman, then signs should be paid for. Churches and schools should be exempt from paying, as they are always not for profit and are not treated the same way as a business enterprise, e.g., they don't pay taxes.
Rt25 October 04, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Another Monroe mess because no one talks to anyone. If the town chairs were sent notices from the Zoning officer regarding the town rules as it relates to political signs then how come this all happened? Do the town chairs not speak to their candidates? Come on already.
Sue October 04, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Actually, the zoning officer had the wrong email for the Dem. chair, Patty Ulatowski, so she never received the letter or the subsequent letter he sent. That's why the D signs were not placed 10 feet back. Mr. Chapman now has the correct email so this should not be a problem in the future. It just seems odd to me that this sign business is happening at all. I have lived in town for 35 years and there was never a rule on set-back for signs. They always went out 45 days before the election and were placed anywhere on a person''s property.
Sheila D October 04, 2011 at 06:50 PM
10 feet is also a little much to ask. As I drove up Cross Hill and down Moose Hill today, all the political and event signs were about 2 feet from the road. If they were to be 10 feet, they were in the middle of the homeowner's front yard (awwwkward-"Hey, can I put my sign in the middle of your front yard?"), behind a stone wall or landscaping, or in some cases, in a parking lot. How about 3 feet? Can we get an acceptable happy medium here?


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something