The Record: No fines for signs

PARAMUS HAS a law on the books restricting campaign signs from appearing around the borough earlier than 35 days before elections that goes unenforced by local authorities. While many find the annual plethora of campaign signs around the county to be an eyesore, they are actually good for democracy.

Certain restrictions are reasonable for placing campaign signs. For instance, they should never interfere with a public right of way, and should be removed in a timely fashion after an election is over. But ultimately, the First Amendment supports citizens' rights to express their political opinions in this manner.

Republican council candidates in Paramus argued last week that the slate of Democrats violated borough laws by posting their campaign signs as early as September for the upcoming November election. Signs for the county executive race went up even earlier.

Paramus Borough Attorney Paul Kaufman is right to say the 19-year-old ordinance should be removed from the book, because it is unenforceable as it is written.

"When the government gets involved in regulating freedom of speech and regulating permitted conduct, all you do is get yourself in trouble and all you do is open the government up to liability and damages that are unnecessary," Kaufman said.

He said if the borough's building department enforced the 35-day time limit or collected permit fees for signs, as the ordinance stipulates, the American Civil Liberties Union probably would have successfully sued the borough.

America was founded on the principle of freedom of speech. Seeing tons of signs around town may be a nuisance for some people, but candidates and their supporters have the right to express themselves.

People should be considerate and reasonable when placing signs. But they should be able to put them where they want. Then win or lose, they should come down quickly.

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