Political Arms Race Along the Roadsides

Anyone who has been on the roads lately will have noticed new, huge political signs here and there. That they are hard to miss is the point, but they are illegal.

While the average reader might not know the rules on temporary signs like these, the candidates and their supporters surely should. Because some of the political rank and file evidently do not — or don’t care — here are the basics: Signs on public property in East Hampton Town, such as roadsides, must be less than six feet in area and be removed after seven days. They also are supposed to be placed perpendicular to property lines. The town code, which can be found online, makes these requirements plain. 

Even though this year’s monster signs, some as big as a sheet of plywood, violate the town code, officials are not likely to order them taken down for fear of appearing partisan. Most, but not all the large signs, support the Republican candidates for East Hampton Town Board; imagine the outcry if Supervisor Larry Cantwell asked the Ordinance Enforcement Department to look into it. But the Republicans are not alone; a too-big sign in Amagansett backing Demo­crats also has been up for more than the allowed seven days.

East Hampton Town has long been a mess when it comes to enforcing its own rules on signs. Year round, there are almost constant nonpolitical offenders near Kirk Park in Montauk and at the pull-off area at Georgica Pond on Montauk Highway, for example. The rules about how long a sign can be up, and its size, placement, and height are routinely ignored. 

No one in government will defend the lassitude on the record, or explain it, but safe conjecture is that officials are loath to offend those in the building trades who are mostly responsible for the ongoing violations. Anti-glare lighting requirements get little attention, too, with an obvious violation right smack in front of Town Hall, the one with the supervisor’s and town board members’ names on it. (To the supervisor’s credit, his name does not appear on the highway sign for East Hampton Airport, as in previous administrations.)

Apparently signs are a low priority; the Ordinance Enforcement Department’s year-end report for 2016 showed that just 88 of its more than 2,400 cases involved them. That is odd, though, since it reported that more than a quarter of the matters officers looked into came from observations made on patrol, and it is indisputable that signs are, as we said, hard to miss. It makes one wonder what, if anything, department personnel are looking for when out and about.