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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

A sure 'sign' of fall

URBAN anti-clutter folks, who'd like to regulate when political signs may appear on private property and when they must be taken down, took a First Amendment beating four years ago, and rightly so. That's when the Ohio Supreme Court invalidated a Painesville ordinance that aimed to keep signs off lawns until 17 days before any election.

Closer to home in Lucas County, one municipality after another has chosen not to enforce ordinances that limit the duration of political sign displays.

Toledo, for example, dropped a provision in 2001 that would have kept signs out of sight until 60 days before an election. Sylvania Township is not enforcing its restrictions pending a legal review. Its outcome seems certain.

Meanwhile, officials in Kent and Fairlawn, Ohio, are continuing to thumb their noses at free speech.

This isn't just a free speech issue, of course.

Clamping down on political signs had less to do with deliberate stifling of free speech than ridding the streetscape of visual clutter. There is no denying that the proliferation of political signs for this candidate or that cause is an annual epidemic. It's a rite of the election season, and one which most people would consider far less appealing than the changing autumn colors on the trees.

But sign proliferation seems worse, or at least more concentrated, in public areas - where campaign workers compete for the best spot and dozens of signs vie for passing motorists' attention - than it does on neighborhood lawns.

We come down on the side of unfettered expression of political opinion, but with a caveat. It's imperative that out-of-date signs, no matter where they were shoved into the ground, be removed immediately after the election.

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