SEBASTIAN – Political candidates wanting to post campaign signs within Sebastian’s city limits will not have any extra time to get their names out to the public.
The Sebastian City Council, with a 4-1 vote, decided not to change the city’s sign ordinance despite the city’s attorney recommendation to extend the 30-day rule to 75 days.
“It horrified me,” Mayor Jim Hill said of reading the proposed ordinance change that would allow signs to be posted 75 days prior to any election.
In even-numbered years, when there are primary elections throughout the county for County Commission, School Board, state and federal offices, Hill said the ordinance could allow potentially thousands of signs in the city for as many as 125 days – nearly a third of a year.
He said that he did some research on the issue while “freaking out” over the prospect and noted that the ordinance could lead Sebastian to looking much like Palm Bay in Brevard County.
“It does not stop,” Hill said of the political signs in Palm Bay. “It’s disgusting.”
Hill also pointed out that the City Council has been discussing changes to its commercial sign ordinance, raising issues with the small signs mom-and-pop shops have put out trying to attract customers. The 75-day political sign rule, he said, would be the “most liberal” of the rules in Indian River County.
“I think this is a big deal,” he said, adding that it would represent a major change for the city and could jeopardize the aesthetics the city has worked hard to achieve.
“Some things are worth fighting for,” Hill said.
City Attorney Robert Ginsburg told the City Council in his legal opinion, the city’s 30-day ordinance is legally “indefensible” and has been ruled unconstitutional in other, similar municipalities when challenged in court.
“This issue is not an easy one,” Ginsburg said, explaining that matters involving the First Amendment tend to be rather complicated – and expensive.
If the city were challenged and lost in court, the city would have to pay not only for its own defense, but also the legal expenses of the complainant.
Ginsburg explained that he recommended 75 days based on the city’s qualifying period for candidates. He said the city would be in a more defensible position for setting a timeframe with that reasoning behind it.
Ginsburg also explained that the 30-day rule had been struck down elsewhere because of concerns for early and absentee voting – which can take place farther out than 30 days prior to an election.
Councilman Richard Gillmor was the lone vote in favor of extending the timeframe to 75 days, saying that the city’s attorney had laid out “pretty clear direction” for the city’s protection. He pointed out the city could be in a position of being sued.
“I don’t want to see the city go down in flames,” Gillmor said, adding he could see it just as clearly as a train heading down the tracks.
Councilman Don Wright, armed with a legal article on the issue provided by Ginsburg, said it was his opinion the city could be on even less defensible ground by making any changes to the ordinance considering three members on the council could be incumbents in the upcoming municipal election.
He noted the city’s current ordinance has been on the books since before any of the current members have served on the council.
City Clerk Sally Maio noted the ordinance was first approved in 1991, and not signed by any of the current council members.
Political Sign Ordinances throughout the County at a glance
Sebastian – 30 days
Fellsmere – 30 days
Indian River County – 30 days
Vero Beach – 60 days
Indian River Shores – 0 days
Orchid – 0 days