A proposed Marlboro temporary sign ordinance on the agenda for adoption by the Township Council on Thursday evening July 17 has Marlboro Republicans contemplating a federal court challenge should the all Democratic Council enact the measure.
Mayor Jon Hornik, named the best mayor in New Jersey in an unscientific PolitickerNJ poll earlier this month after the Township’s resident email list was used to rally online votes, told MMM that political signs create clutter and traffic safety issues in the Township and that his administration has been working on an solution that protects free speech rights while improving public safety since 2008. “It’s not just local races, but every level…county, state, and federal. Marlboro gets littered with campaign signs every fall,” Hornik said, “It is a safety issue that has gotten worse since the Board of Education elections were moved to November. The council has been working hard to make sure the safety and clutter issues are addressed while at the same time protecting free speech rights. I will support what they come up with.”
The proposed ordinance, which can be found here, would prohibit temporary political signs on Township property and public rights of way, with the exception of rights of way adjacent to private property (that strip of land between sidewalks and curbs), regulate the size of signs to 16 square feet, and allow signs to be placed on private property only 45 days prior to an election or event and seven days after an election. Candidates, Committee Chairmen, Campaign Treasurers and private property owners with signs on rights of way adjacent to their property would be subject to fines ranging from$100 to $1250 and/or 90 days in jail for violations.
Marlboro Republican Chairman Christopher Dean said the ordinance is designed to give the incumbent Democratic governing body a political advantage. “They (the Marlboro Democrats) have secured every available billboard in town that accepts political advertising for the next three years. The only purpose of this ordinance is to prevent Marlboro Republicans or Democratic Primary challengers from getting their message out. It is a suppression of political speech and a violation of the 1st amendment,” Dean said, “We are going to fight this for as long as it takes.”
Dean has hired Matthew Rasmussen, an attorney with Hanlon Niemann to fight the ordinance.
Rasmussen said the ordinance is “a government overreach that is unconstitutional. Ordinances like this have been overturned numerous times. A test case will not be necessary to challenge this ordinance if it is adopted.”
Rasmussen said he hopes to convince the governing body,which includes two attorneys, Hornik and Councilman Frank LaRocca, on Thursday night that the ordinance is unconstitutional and prevent federal litigation. He told MMM he would feel obligated to file a challenge in federal court if the ordinance is adopted.
“The opposition cares only about getting their candidates elected, Hornik said, “They are forgetting that this ordinance will apply to all candidates of all parties.” Hornik said Dean’s efforts were ” a waste of time and energy”and dismissed the importance of campaign signs to political campaigns. “Maybe they increase name recognition a bit,” he said,”but they don’t change votes.”
LaRocca was less diplomatic than Hornik in his comments about the opposition.
“Chris Dean makes mountains out of mole hills and his extreme partisanship is detrimental,” LaRocca said, “He is obsessed with Jon Hornik and he has no credibility. One of out ten times, Dean might have a good idea, and we will listen to it. But anything that we propose, he’s automatically against it. He was against the Shop Marlboro Program which has been huge success and save taxpayers a great deal of money. We don’t govern based upon what Chris Dean wants. We govern for what is in the best interests of Marlboro citizens. We’ve been the most conservative administration in recent Marlboro history and we’re Democrats. Dean should be happy with what we are doing.”
Regarding the potential penalty of a 90 day jail term for violating the ordinance, LaRocca said, “No one is going to jail for violating this ordinance. Any judge who imposed such a sentence would be run out of the country.” LaRocca said the penalties were in line with the minimum and maximum penalties of all New Jersey municipal ordinances.