Clayton commission postpones decision on sign ordinance

CLAYTON TOWNSHIP — The Clayton Township Planning Commission will wait until after the November election to tackle an ordinance regulating temporary signs.

All around the township, makeshift signs advertise things like rummage sales, eggs for sale and property for sale. Residents, businesses and even out-of-towners put up temporary placards to show they support the police, oppose abortion or need summer help.

The campaign signs, though; those are the ones that stick in the craw of township officials. It’s not what the signs say that concerns officials. It’s that some of the signs keep saying it months and even years after the polls have closed.

Abandoned signs become litter, said township Clerk and Commissioner Dennis Milem. They end up in ditches and become blight, he said.

In an attempt to encourage candidates to collect their signs, the township included a “political signs” section in their sign ordinance. The ordinance allows political signs to go up 30 days before elections, and requires that they come down 10 days after.

The problem for Clayton Township and communities across the country is that such “content-specific” regulations are unconstitutional.

As township attorney Ken Tucker has explained, if you have to read the sign to determine whether it complies with the ordinance, the ordinance is unconstitutional. That was the finding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (Arizona) in 2015.

The township can regulate things such as materials, set-backs, size and so on, as long as those regulations apply to any sign regardless of content, Tucker said.

“I’m sure a lot of municipalities have struggled with this,” said Commissioner George Sippert.

Indeed. Tucker said he provided the commission with an article stating that officials in many communities have tried to iron out their sign ordinances, but “no one has gotten it right.”

“I’ve talked to several of my colleagues,” Tucker said. “They’ve all put it on the back burner.”

They’re waiting for someone else to come up with a solution they can copy, he said.

For now, township officials will do what they can to keep all signs out of rights-of-way, where they become hazards as well as eyesores. And, they said they will try to contact owners of vacant properties to make sure permission was granted for signs to be posted.

Beyond that, they’ll see if the signs get picked up after the November election and take it from there.

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