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Bob Dyer: Here’s a vote to trash the signs

By Bob Dyer
Beacon Journal columnist

Attention fellow citizens: The election is over.

That means you can take down your yard signs.

PLEASE!

Even in the best of circumstances — in other words, before an election — I hate yard signs.

I hate them partly because they’re an aesthetic disaster and partly because they’re effective.

Political consultants say the signs have a cumulative impact: If you see someone’s name often enough, you will remember that name when you’re standing in the voting booth, scratching your head because you failed to do one sliver of research and don’t have the faintest idea who the people on the ballot really are.

Which is mighty, mighty sad.

Almost as sad: voters who know their candidates but who are so lazy that, an entire month after an election, they still haven’t taken down their yard signs.

Really? You can’t get your butt off the couch long enough to walk across the front yard and yank out a cardboard sign?

How much could you possibly care about the aesthetics of your own yard, much less your neighborhood?

At least one reader shares my annoyance.

Medina resident Deb Howell, who frequently drives into Copley and points east via Ridgewood Road, was growing weary of an enormous yard sign for a judicial candidate that was still glaring at her a full 30 days after the polls closed.

She sent me an email asking, “Isn’t there a law about taking those signs down after an election?”

Well, that depends. Some communities have them and some don’t.

Copley don’t. Er, doesn’t.

Planning Director Matt Springer says the only thing the township gets riled up about is signs planted in the right-of-way that block motorists’ views of oncoming traffic. And even those situations are handled gently.

Before the Nov. 6 election, a Hametown Road resident planted a row of signs next to the street. A township rep knocked on the door of the house, intending to ask the owner to move them. Finding nobody home, he did the neighborly thing: Instead of yanking them out and throwing them away, he pulled up the signs and stuck them back in the ground about 10 feet farther from the street.

Springer says Copley hasn’t passed an ordinance about the timing of political signs because court rulings involving political signs and freedom of speech have made the issue increasingly dicey.

A number of other area communities that don’t have ordinances cite the same reason. That’s also the reason neighboring Bath has not been enforcing a sign ordinance already on its books.

As the township reworks its zoning code, says zoning boss William Funk, restrictions on the time period will be eliminated. But, he adds, Bath does try to clean things up informally.

In contrast, if my reader had seen a month-old sign in Fairlawn or Akron, things could have been considerably more formal.

In March 2011, Fairlawn passed an ordinance that says political signs can’t be displayed more than 65 days before an election or longer than three days afterward.

Anyone who violates that law is sent a letter, and if the sign isn’t gone within five days, the city bills the owner or renter for the cost of removing it. If that bill isn’t paid, the amount is added to the property’s tax duplicate.

Fairlawn zoning honcho Chris Randles says he didn’t need to send any notices this year.

Akron’s ordinance is a bit less generous in terms of lead time — 45 days before an election — but considerably more generous post-election: 10 days. Akron’s law also carries a considerably bigger potential penalty: death by lethal injection.

Just kidding.

Actually, Akron’s ordinance is no joking matter. Violating it is a third-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Administrative fines also could be imposed, building from $100 to $500 to $1,000.

Enforcement would have to start with a notice and an order to comply.

City spokeswoman Stephanie York, who doesn’t recall any recent cases, says residents who want to report a sign slob can do so by calling 311.

Stow, like every other municipality I contacted, is touchy about signs in the right-of-way. Otherwise, the city declines to wade into the issue of timing because of court rulings, reports Zoning Compliance Officer Bobbie Carper.

Hudson lumps political signs in with the “temporary signs” section of its land development code, which specifies a seven-day grace period. In theory, violators could be fined $75. But city spokeswoman Jody Roberts says Hudson isn’t exactly rigorous about enforcement.

Ditto for Cuyahoga Falls, which theoretically restricts the continuous display of temporary signs to 30 days. And, in theory, you have to apply for a temporary sign permit before declaring your political preferences in your front yard.

How sad that we have to try so hard to figure out a way to legislate common courtesy.

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com.