This November, residents will be voting for candidates running in local government and , county, state and national elections. The median along Macarthur Blvd. may not be wide enough to house all of the campaign signs headed its way.
At the request of the mayor, the town council at its Thursday night meeting considered altering or re-interpreting the township’s sign ordinance to limit or ban the signage allowed in the public right-of-way.
After much , a council sub-committee tasked with reevaluating Mahwah’s sign laws has not met, Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio said. Council President John Spiech heads the three-member committee.
“I am asking the council to consider enforcing a law allowing no campaign signs in the public right-of-way,” Mayor Bill Laforet said Thursday night, prompting a discussion on political signs. “I think we are far enough in advance of the election that we can set the ground rules, because this really affects the appearance of our town.” Laforet asked that signs only be allowed on private property, like on resident’s front lawns.
The council asked the sign ordinance subcommittee – made up of Spiech, DiGiulio and Councilman Roy Larson – to meet and return to the council with a proposal by its first meeting in June. “We should try to get this done in a timely fashion,” Councilman Harry Williams said. “Election season is already here, especially since petitions [for local offices] are now available for pickup. Candidates will be ordering signs soon.”
The current sign ordinance says that permits must be obtained from the township’s construction official before any signs are put up in Mahwah. However, it lists political signs as “exempt.” The ordinance reads: “Exempt signs…shall be permitted within all zoning districts of the Township of Mahwah.” But, it also says that “signs placed in the public right-of-way or on public property without first obtaining prior approval of the Township Council,” are prohibited.
Last year, a chicken-or-egg question emerged about which aspect of the law - signs that are prohibited or signs that are exempt - superseded the other.
Chief James Batelli said the two aspects of the law “seem to be in conflict,” which has hindered the ordinance’s enforcement. “We have asked for clarification regarding these sections [but] have not yet received such clarification,” Batelli said.
“Each year I hear complaints from local residents about the multitude of political signs in the public right-of-way and the appearance it gives the township,” Batelli said. “To date we have not issued any ordinance violations for political signs in a public right-of-way.”
Thursday night, Larson questioned whether or not banning political signs in public places is allowed Constitutionally. Township Attorney Andrew Fede said he would check into Supreme Court cases to see what the precedent is regarding campaign signage. “You need to be very careful [when creating a law like this], but there are ways to do it,” Fede said.
The council said it would consider limiting the size, placing, and proliferation of political campaign signs throughout the township.
Laforet said he feels clarifying the ordinance before signs start popping up is "important. If you put signs on your lawn, they are cleaned up the day after the election, that’s not a big deal. But, with everybody from the President on down running this year, I really think we need to address this for the good of the community.”