News and Tribune

November 30, 2012

NASH: The signs are all around

By MATTHEW NASH
Local columnist

— Last year, at the start of the election season, I was a little dismayed at how the use of political signs had gotten out of hand.

I remember that one of the New Albany mayoral candidates had started putting out signs before the end of January for the primary election which is the first Tuesday of May. I was also disappointed that the size of the signs had grown after years of most political candidates using basically the same standard size.

This year, a local politician was notified that his political signs were too large based on an ordinance that was passed and that they needed to be removed. Instead of having the signs taken down, State Rep. Ed Clere left the signs where they were until the election was over.

Now that he has won the election, he is facing a fine for not removing the signs. According to the report in the News and Tribune, he believes that the ordinance only applies to political signs placed in the right of way, but the town disagrees.

Mr. Clere also believes that he is being singled out for political reasons, but two other local politicians were notified that their signs violated the law and they both chose to correct the problem immediately. Mr. Clere believes that the law didn’t pertain to him and even if it did he was quoted as saying, “I would argue that there still needs to be a high level of protection for political speech.”

Why does he believe that political speech is more important that any other speech? No where in the U.S. Constitution is one form of speech given any preference over another.

I work within the boundaries of the town of Clarksville and the business that I work for has also been under attack for the placement of signage on our property. Last year, we were visited by the building inspector’s office and told that we were over the limit on the number of signs we were allowed. We were given written notice of the code violation and were asked to remove the signs in a timely fashion.

These were all fairly small signs, but apparently there is a rule on what kind and type of signage is appropriate on private property. Instead of challenging whether the really applied to us, we did the right thing and removed the signs.

When I heard about the warning that we received I was a little bit surprised. You see, I had noticed that year that up and down Lewis and Clark Parkway there had been several politicians that had placed their signs right in the median. Seeing that, I thought there was no way that there could possibly be an ordinance on the books that regulated the placements of signs in Clarksville. This past election cycle no signs appeared in the median, although I did notice that three signs were placed near the exit ramp toward New Albany, in the right of way.

Some have said that people should be able to put up whatever signs they want to on their own private property. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Constitution and should be protected, but what about the Clarksville’s ability to control the proliferation of signage throughout the town? Should any land owner or business be able to place any sign any where they want regardless of the size? What if anybody wanted to put up as many as big of a sign they wanted to?

It was reported that the fine that could be levied is up to $2,500 per day per sign, and could be up to $200,000 for this incident. While this seems a little excessive, Clere and his team were given an opportunity to remove the signs before the fines kicked in, but they refused. I believe that a state lawmaker should go out of his way to follow the letter of the law. By refusing to remove his signs, Mr. Clere believes that he is above the law. Not agreeing with the interpretation of a law doesn’t give you the right to not follow it.

The officials in Clarksville should be allowed to enforce the laws on the books, and everyone should be required to follow the rules. The town of Clarksville or any community for that matter should be able to regulate the size of sign that people are allowed to erect. If anyone was allowed to just put up as many and as big of signs as they wanted, it could get out of hand pretty quickly, especially in a town like Clarksville with so many different businesses and developments.

If the current law is too vague or needs to be clarified then they should go back to the drawing board and try again.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com