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Published: Friday, 12/22/2000

Port Clinton to consider modifying its sign law


PORT CLINTON - City council plans to consider amending its new sign ordinance to address concerns expressed by a state lawmaker that the measure illegally restricts political campaigns.

In a letter sent to council this week, Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Port Clinton) questioned two sections of the ordinance, which council approved Dec. 12 as part of an ongoing effort to beautify the city.

Mr. Redfern said the ordinance, as written, allowed candidates to post political signs 30 days a year, a time he said is too short. The ordinance classifies political placards as temporary signs.

“If it is the intention of council to provide a 30-day time period for both the primary and general elections, then that must be clearly noted within the ordinance,” Mr. Redfern wrote.

In addition, he said, the measure defines real estate “For Sale” signs as temporary signs but doesn't restrict their use, leading to what he said is a constitutional issue.

“Because political signs are also defined as temporary, the council has inadvertently restricted political speech and not commercial speech,” Mr. Redfern said in his letter. “This action can and should be construed as unconstitutional.”

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Redfern said he wrote to council after receiving phone calls from more than 30 political supporters who objected to the limits on political signs.

“It was just brought to my attention, so I'm trying to bring it to the attention of the powers that be in the city,” said Mr. Redfern, a former Ottawa County commissioner who lives in Catawba Island.

At a city council meeting last night, Councilwoman Laura George, who helped draft the ordinance, said Mr. Redfern's concerns could be addressed easily by amending the measure.

Council members were given three proposed changes drawn up by Walt Wehenkel, Ottawa County's regional planning director, who helped develop the sign ordinance.

The ordinance defines temporary signs as those “to be displayed for a maximum of 30 days in any calendar year.” The first proposed amendment would allow display for up to 30 days “in any calendar year for that specific event.”

A second amendment would establish a separate category for “for sale, for lease, or for rent signs,” while a third change would allow one such sign of no more than 12 square feet per dwelling.

“These issues were cleared up with just three simple phone calls,” Ms. George said. “What disturbs me most about this ... is that three dozen people contacted Representative Redfern” instead of calling someone on council. “You've got to come to us, or we won't know you have a problem.”

Ms. George, who is chairwoman of council's planning, zoning, health, welfare, and industrial development committee, said council would discuss the proposed changes at its monthly work session for next month, scheduled for Jan. 2. The sign ordinance takes effect Jan. 12.

Speaking after the meeting, Councilwoman Linda Hartlaub said she shared Mr. Redfern's concerns about the sign ordinance and was satisfied with the suggested changes.

“I think they will clear it all up,” she said.

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