Robinson sign law draws ACLU's notice

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is threatening legal action against Robinson Township over what it charges is selective enforcement of campaign-sign restrictions that has targeted Republican candidates.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the ACLU asked the township to immediately suspend enforcement of ordinances related to political signs because it contends they violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution "in multiple ways."

The letter, signed by ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Witold J. Walczak, says the township has failed to enforce its ban on political signs on public property in previous election cycles, including in last spring's primaries.

Last month, however, John "Jack" Cairns, chairman of the Robinson Township Republican Committee, received a letter from township code enforcement officer Greg Cuthbert advising him that the ban would be enforced "for the upcoming election."

No such letter was delivered to the local Democratic committee until the Republicans filed a Right-to-Know request seeking copies of any similar letters sent by the township, said Linda Jakubec, a former township GOP committee chairwoman who contacted the ACLU about the letter.

Among other provisions, the township's ordinance bans political signs on public rights of way, utility poles, trees and rocks; restricts such signs to 6 square feet; and states that the maximum "message area" on any one lot cannot exceed 18 square feet.

Three seats on the township's five-member board of commissioners are up for election Nov. 5. Three Republican candidates are vying with three Democrats for the seats on the board, which traditionally has been dominated by Democrats, Mr. Cairns said.

Last week, Mr. Cairns and Mrs. Jakubec said, about 16 signs for their candidates that had been placed on public and private property were later removed. Mrs. Jakubec said a township employee in a public vehicle was seen removing one of the GOP signs at Silver Lane and Clever Road, leaving commercial signs and other campaign signs in place.

"I heard that and drove around the township and realized quite a few of our signs were gone," Mrs. Jakubec said. "No doubt in my mind we are definitely being targeted. Our free speech ... is being stifled by the township. It seems to be our particular message, our First Amendment rights, they want to violate."

On Monday, Mr. Cairns found a dozen of the missing signs at the township garage on Forest Grove Road. He noted that the township did not give the required 24-hour notice outlined in the local ordinance before the signs were removed.

"By appearances, the only signs that were removed were ours," Mr. Cairns said.

Mr. Walczak said other signs in the township, including for judicial elections, were left untouched.

"The only ones that seem to have been put into the holding cell were Republican campaign signs. It's a little fishy," he said.

Township manager Jeffrey F. Silka would not discuss the ACLU's letter or the township's response.

"That's a legal issue. ... We're not going to make any comment," Mr. Silka said.

The ACLU has given the township until noon today to respond to the letter.

With the election just 11 days away, Mr. Walczak said the ACLU intends to seek a temporary restraining order Monday to prevent the township from enforcing the sign ordinance if it doesn't do so on its own.


Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.

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