Despite the objection of one candidate that it’s expanding visual clutter unnecessarily, Arlington County Board members have backed – verbally at least – a ruling by the county’s zoning-enforcement staff that allows campaign signage to be posted in medians much earlier than in previous elections.
Audrey Clement, an independent making another run for County Board this fall, used the Sept. 18 County Board meeting to blast the “unilateral decision” by zoning staff that, she says, goes against the plain reading of county code.
“There is no authorization to extend the public spectacle [of signage] . .. for two months or more,” Clement said. “Legislation by fiat is not the preferred way to change the sign ordinance.”
The code section in question allows campaign signage to go up 31 days before an election. The change came when zoning staff decided that “election” meant not Nov. 2, but rather Sept. 17, when early voting began.
In response to Clement’s criticism, County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti said allowing signage on medians earlier than before was appropriate.
“I agree with that interpretation,” he said, since many people will be taking the early-voting route and candidates should have the ability to reach out to them through median signs.
His colleague Christian Dorsey, taking on a tone of moral righteousness, said that providing voters with information is a “higher principle” than avoiding roadway clutter.
Under existing zoning rules, political signage can be placed in medians of county-owned roads any time of year, but except for during the period immediately preceding elections could only stay there on weekends, similar to rules imposed on other signage in medians.
Critics of the revamped interpretation could always take the matter to court and let a judge define “election” for posterity. But even if the ruling went against the county government, County Board members could simply amend the wording of the ordinance to designate the start of early voting as the point at which an “election” is deemed to have started. That would require a public hearing and subsequent vote.