New Sign of the Times

New Sign of the Times

City staff will prepare new ordinance for consideration.

Just when you thought it was safe to drive down Commonwealth Avenue, more political signs popped up.

In response to concerns about the number of political signs that appeared during the recent mayoral, City Council and School Board campaigns, City Council listened to the public discuss changing the ordinance regarding these “spring flowers.” Now, candidates running for Delegate Karen Darner's seat in the 49th District have campaign signs throughout the Arlandria and other portions of the city that make up that district.

“I think we should limit the number of median signs,” said Mike Oliver. “Yard signs say something. Signs in the median strips shout overkill.”

City resident Katie Canady disagreed. “I see these political signs as a metaphor for democracy — messy and disorganized,” she said. “They come out only every three years and we have to live with them for a little over a month. They are an asset for less well-funded candidates. They give all candidates as much of a level playing field as possible.”

Mayor Kerry J. Donley believes in some reform but was cautious. “A few years ago, I proposed that we not allow signs in the public right-of-way but just in private yards,” he said. “That’s an endorsement. However, the more you layer on regulations, the harder it is to interpret and enforce.”

Bill Dickinson spoke about just such interpretation. “When I went to apply for a permit to put up our “say no to connector” signs, the ordinance was silent on issue signs,” he said. “After the staff scratched their heads, they gave me the permit. In hindsight, they probably shouldn’t have done so. The new ordinance needs to be clear and speak to this. Issue signs are a problem, though, and I see us heading down a very slippery slope here. What types of signs are we going to allow? Who gets to decide what issue is appropriate? It’s a difficult decision to make.”

SIGNS ARE ALLOWED in the public right-of-way 90 days before an election and they must be taken down within 15 days after that election. “If we are going to make a change, perhaps we should limit the number of signs that each candidate is allowed in a specific area and limit the time to 60 days prior to the election,” Donley said.

Council directed staff to prepare an ordinance that would include these suggestions. “The ordinance will come back to us and then the next Council can also take a look at it,” Donley said.