WESTFIELD – City Council members did not warmly embrace a proposed sign ordinance amendment proposed by At-large Councilor Dan Allie last week.
Allie is seeking to change the sign ordinance regulating temporary signs, a process he began in January working with Principal Planner Jay Vinskey. Allie submitted a proposed ordinance change earlier this summer for review by the Planning Board, but while that review was still in progress the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that substantially reduces local regulation of temporary signs.
There has already been a campaign sign complaint by one of the Mayoral candidates in the November election. Michael L. Roeder charged that Brian P. Sullivan’s campaign group violated the current 60 day limit by putting up signs along Western Avenue the day the Fourth of July fireworks were held at Stanley Park. Sullivan’s campaign committee removed the signs the following morning.
The proposed amendment was changed yet again to put it in line with the court’s decision and the Planning Board voted to send the City Council a positive recommendation on that version of the regulation.
The City Council took up the proposed ordinance Thursday and raised a number of concerns before sending it the Legislative & Ordinance Committee and Law Department for greater review.
The current ordinance allows temporary signs, including campaign signs, to be put up 60 days prior to an “event” but does not define what constitutes an event. The current language sets a 120 day limit per year to displaying temporary signs.
Allie has said the current ordinance limits free speech protected by the US Constitution and is too cumbersome for residents to understand.
Allie also charges that people running for office do not know until late August if there will be a preliminary election in September to reduce the number of candidates for a particular post, which means candidates do not have sufficient time to erect campaign signs for that September preliminary election if one is needed.
Allie, with the Planning Board endorsement, is seeking to allow political signs to be displayed for up to 90 days a year. The proposed amendment would not require those signs to be displayed on consecutive days, meaning that the signs could be put up and taken down for months prior to an election.
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean II said that the court ruling has opened the door to further litigation.
“So if we have any restriction, somebody can go to court (to appeal that restriction),” Bean said.
At-large Councilor Cindy Harris and Ward 5 Councilor Robert A. Paul Sr., both objected the proposed amendment on the basis that it would unenforceable by the Building Superintendent.
“Who is going to manage this?” Paul asked. “Who is going to measure the distance between signs? There are a lot of things to complain about, a lot of things to check. This is supposed to be a remedy but the solution you’re proposing creates more criterion for complaints.”
Harris charged that Allie picked a specific court decision to support his position.
“I’m not paying anybody in City Hall to monitor it,” Harris said. “I’m not going to tell citizens that I will support something that goes against the beautification of Westfield.”
L&O Chairman Ralph Figy said this morning that Allie has “opened Pandora’s box” because he is so focused on the issue of campaign signs.
“This will have an impact on every other type of temporary signs,” Figy said “It raises so many questions, such as does every temporary sign need to be registered or permitted by the Building Department. It has a domino effect.”
“The L&O has a lot of work to do on this, so I don’t see it coming out of committee anytime soon,” Figy said.