Murray looks to revise law for campaign signs, current language not clear

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 September 2020 at 3:32 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: This sign promoting Dirk Lammes for highway superintendent on Route 31 was covered up after the code enforcement officer last week said it violated the town ordinance for being out too early before an election. But town officials on Monday evening acknowledged the current ordinance isn’t clear so Lammes’ sign was allowed to be displayed today.

MURRAY – The Town Board said it will look at updating the town ordinance for election signs after one candidate had two signs cited because the code enforcement officer thought they were out too early.

In Murray, town officials have believed the expectation in the town was no campaign signs out 30 days before an election. That was how Fred Case, the code officer, interpreted the code.

Last week, two signs were put up for Dirk Lammes, a candidate for highway superintendent. Case told the land owners the signs were in violation of the Murray code and needed to be removed.

But Case during Monday’s Town Board meeting said he made a mistake. The general election is Nov. 3, but there is now early voting and people can send in absentee ballots. So Case said the question is when does the election officially start?

Case also said the code states no signs should be up within 30 days of a general election campaign. It doesn’t state general election, but “general election campaign.”

The campaign could start many months before the actual election, when candidates are going to party officials, seeking an endorsement and also trying to get residents to sign a petition.

“We need to clarify when the signs can be posted,” Case told the board on Monday.

He also said signs promoting Donald Trump and Joe Biden for U.S. president have been on many lawns for months.

Town Supervisor Joe Sidonio doesn’t want to see restrictions on campaign signs.

“I apologize,” Case said. “I need clarification from the Town Board on how to enforce this or do we take it out of the zoning code altogether?”

Paul Hendel, a town councilman, said the intent from the town has been to not allow campaign signs until 30 days before people go to the polls.

“I don’t believe residents want to see political signs strewn all over town for more than 30 days,” he said.

The town code also states the signs need to be removed within 48 hours after an election.

Town Supervisor Joe Sidonio said he sees political signs as free speech and shouldn’t be constrained with time frames.

He also said the town shouldn’t “spot enforce” the zoning for campaign signs, citing some but not others.

Town Attorney John Sansone said the code should be changed and made more clear.

“The way that this is written it’s impossible,” Sansone said. “For Fred (code officer) to try to enforce this you put him in a situation where he can’t win because there are good arguments on both sides.”

Return to top