Dependable Erection

Friday, October 19, 2007

Does this make sense?

Here's an excerpt from an email i just received earlier, apropos of a discussion about the applicability of the sign ordinance section of the Durham UDO to the campaign signs around town urging people to vote for the "ticket" of Monks, Parrish, and Funderburk:
The Planning Department has ruled that the signs do not have to come down. The department may suggest a change to the ordinance in anticipation of future multi-person tickets.

Let's give a little background. Despite the "non-partisan" nature of municipal elections in North Carolina, three Durham Republicans, Laney Funderburk, Melodie Parrish, and Steve Monks, banded together to run a joint campaign for City Council. The three had a combined website (which has been updated) and yard signs around town urging a vote for all three candidates by name.

Here's the rub.

Section 11.5.1 paragraph F of the Unified Development Ordinance, which governs the placement of campaign signs throughout the city, says:
The following signs are allowed within the public right-of-way in all zoning districts.

(City only) Signs erected in connections with elections, referenda, or current political events provided that they do not exceed six square feet per sign in area and are no more than four feet in height. The signs shall be located so as not to obstruct drivers' vision clearances at intersections. Such signs may be posted 45 days prior to an election and shall be removed within 15 days after the election or cessation of candidacy by any candidate no longer participating in the election, whichever comes first. Along State rights-of-way such signs may require permits from NCDOT.

There is no dispute that Melodie Parrish is no longer participating in the election. So, by what reading of the ordinance are signs encouraging citizens to vote for her allowed to remain standing? Whether other names are on the sign or not has no relevance to a clear reading of the law. Melodie Parrish's candidacy has ceased. Whether or not her running mates chose to save their own campaign money by putting their names on the same signs as her is not germane.

I've got an email into the Planning Department asking to explain their reasoning. I'll post the answer if and when i get it. I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Steve Medlin from the Planning
Department responds:
As you may imagine there are no simple answers when it comes to application of the UDO requirements and how they may relate to campaign signs. The signs that have three candidates identified on them have raised an issue that we have no precedent for here in Durham. Therefore, I have discussed the issue with the City Attorney’s office and internal Planning staff. A strict interpretation of the UDO provisions would indicate that should any candidate lose during the primary that the signs must be removed within 15 days of the election or cessation of candidacy. However, when drafted there was no consideration of multiple candidate signage and therefore no provisions were defined for these types of situations. Conversely, the ordinance could also be interpreted as meaning that as long as any of the candidates are still involved in the election that the signage could remain.

After discussing the issue among staff and the attorneys it was decided that the most appropriate interpretation, based on what was felt to be the intent of the ordinance, is to allow the signs to remain as long as any of the candidates are still eligible for election. In this case, only a single candidate is no longer in the race so to remove the signs could unreasonably penalize the remaining two candidates and subject legal challenge.

Because of this new approach in signage here in Durham, staff feels that an UDO text amendment is needed to clarify this issue for any future elections. We feel that a relatively minor amendment to the current language could clarify that signs must be removed when all candidates represented are no longer in the election or language needs to be added that specifies that if multiple candidate signs are proposed that should any of the candidates lose then the signs must be removed within 15 days. We will be bringing this item to the Joint City-County Planning Committee for direction on how to proceed.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home