by Andrea Cole
Stow -- Although the law is not enforced, city officials want to revise an ordinance they say is "unconstitutional."
City Councilmembers say they hope to revise a city ordinance that limits the amount of time political signs are allowed in yards.
Under the law, in effect since 1995, such signs are allowed on private property with the owner's permission, as long as they are placed no earlier than 17 days before the election and removed no more than seven days after it.
However, Councilmember Ron Alexander said the legislation needs to be revised, to remove the time limitations.
"I have had several people ask us to revisit the issue and repeal the ordinance," he said.
Law Director Joe Haefner said in the 1997 case of Painesville Bldg. Dept. v. Dworken & Bernstein Co. L.P.A., the Ohio Supreme Court declared setting time limits for election signs on private property to be "unconstitutional." Since that ruling, the city has not enforced the ordinance.
"Council wants the city ordinance to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling," he said. "We often receive calls from candidates who ask what our local legislation states about political signs. We explain the city ordinance, but we tell them we do not enforce it because it is unconstitutional."
Haefner said the proposal to remove the time limits must be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council before the ordinance is revised.
"The motion is just a recommendation for the Planning Commission to consider," he said. "The Planning Commission then must make a recommendation for Council's Planning Committee, and the proposal will move on to City Council. This is only the first step."
Councilmember Janet D'Antonio said while she believes the ordinance needs to be changed, she hopes election signs are not up throughout the year.
"We know [the ordinance] is not legal, although it worked for a while," she said. "Although we never enforced the legislation, people pretty much followed the time limits. But, I do believe it needs to be changed; it is a freedom of speech issue."
The next Planning Commission item is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in Stow City Hall.