City can’t demand removal of Trump yard signs

Staff Report

A brouhaha over the continued presence of Trump yard signs in Amherst has pitted online commenters against each other in recent weeks.

Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, his early executive orders have resulted in protests worldwide. While Amherst hasn’t seen any marching in the streets, raw feelings have manifested in arguments over lingering yard signs.

They can be found in numbers — sometimes three or four to a property — easily visible along frequently-traveled roads such as Cooper Foster and Leavitt.

Some have alleged that the president’s supporters have them there illegally three months after the election.

But let’s set the record straight: Neither the mayor’s office nor the building department nor the county can order political signs to be removed simply because of a timetable.

Confusion stems from a prior ordinance that required “temporary” political signs to disappear 30 days after an election.

And that misunderstanding has even led to accusations by certain Facebook users that Republican mayor Mark Costilow is turning a blind eye to the signs.

That’s simply not true.

Last spring, Amherst law director Tony Pecora, a Democrat, told city council it needed to revise old laws that regulated the content of signs.

The city is free to tell residents they can’t have yard signs that are tattered, broken, huge, have bothersome lighting, or block the view of traffic.

It cannot ban signs because they are political or commercial in nature, though. Pecora said that would be a clear First Amendment violation, infringing on the freedom of speech.

According to Pecora, signs for Trump or any other candidate or issue can be kept on private property for weeks, months, years, even decades.

“If someone wants to erect a ‘Repeal Obamacare’ sign, they should be allowed,” he told council.

The Constitution and federal courts allow signs to be regulated for aesthetics and public safety, but officials can’t discriminate based on a sign’s message.

Amherst city workers can check signs every 90 days to make sure they comply with regulations. They can also require property owners to remove or replace ones that don’t comply.

Staff Report