AKRON, Ohio — Two suburbs that charge a $5 fee for each political sign that residents put in their yards are infringing on constitutional rights to free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
The ACLU sent letters this month to officials in the village of Silver Lake and Bath Township, urging them to stop enforcing the fees.
“It’s a violation of the First Amendment,” said attorney Jeff Gamso, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, which is based in Cleveland. “You can’t charge people to put up a sign in their own yard for the right to speak on their own property.”
The ACLU will consider legal action if the two communities fail to act, Gamso said.
“Not everything leads to litigation,” he said. “Some communities re-examine the issues we point out and make changes.”
Officials in Silver Lake and Bath said the $5 fee is actually a deposit. In Bath, the fee can be deposited 30 days before an election and must be picked up five days after the election for the full refund.
The regulation has been in effect for at least 15 years, Bath zoning inspector Bill Funk said.
Silver Lake law director Bob Heydorn said he couldn’t recall a serious complaint about the policy in the 12 years he’s been in office.
“We have few requests for signs in the village,” Heydorn said. “If you look around, you may see six signs throughout the whole area.”
Federal and state courts have routinely held that municipalities may not impose a fee for displaying political signs and may not restrict the size, number and time frame when signs are erected, the ACLU said.
Bath and Silver Lake also place size limitations on political signs. Silver Lake signs can’t be larger than 2 feet by 2 feet, and signs in Bath can’t be larger than 16 square feet and not higher than 4 feet.
The ACLU is also urging the communities to stop enforcing size limitations. It won a case in 2005 when one of the state’s largest Republican fundraisers had been fined for having a 32-square-foot Bush/Cheney sign in his yard in Hudson.
The group took up the case for Summit County Republican Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff and his wife, Karen, after a Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court judge upheld a Hudson ordinance that restricts political signs to 8 square feet.