By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
It’s unclear whether a Town Planning Board effort to have the “Trump 2024” billboard on Route 28 removed is going anywhere.
The town Planning Board was expected to take the issue up Monday, Feb. 1, but the meeting at the town hall in Portlandville was cancelled due to the snowstorm.
Meanwhile, Town Zoning Officer Barbara Monroe drew a line in the sand, saying she has the sole authority to levy fines when zoning violations occur, not the Planning Board.
I have no intention of writing a violation on that sign,” at least for now, she said Monday.
Tuesday, Town Attorney Hyde Clarke, while saying his advice to town bodies is covered by attorney-client privilege, said Monroe’s right.
“It’s not really a planning issue,” he said. “The town has zoning regulations.”
And Town Clerk Rosemary Aborn and Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Al Bullard both said they’re not aware the issue is on this month’s agendas of the town board or ZBA.
“It sounds like a Demo-cratic plot,” said Bullard.
Events were set in motion two weeks ago, Village Mayor Brian Pokorny said, when two town Planning Board members approached him, advising him to remove the billboard or face fines; no amount was specified.
The billboard, across Route 28 from Wood Bull Antiques, is located in the town, but on property owned by the village, he said.
It’s thought a Hartwick Seminary businessman rented the billboard, which is owned by Rome Sign Co., about a year before the Nov. 3 Presidential election to promote his candidate. Someone poured white paint on it last June, but it was repaired.
After the 2020 election, suddenly the billboard read, “Trump 2024,” which apparently prompted the current concern.
ZEO Monroe circulated a copy of town zoning regulations, which include this reference to signs: “Political posters, signs promoting a non-commercial cause or activity or not-for-profit fundraising events shall be allowed on private property only (with property owner’s consent). Such signs shall bear the name and address of the person responsible for their removal, and shall be in place for no more than 30 (thirty) days.”
Read one way, it authorizes the town to order a political sign removed. But Bullard said it refers to “those little things you put on your front lawn.”
County Democratic Chairman Clark Oliver said he had seen the article on www.AllOTSEGO.com, but was unaware of any connection to Democrats in the town.
For his part, Joe Marmorato of Hartwick, vice chairman of the county Republican Committee, pointed out that former President Trump hasn’t even announced he’s running in 2024. Until then, do laws regulating campaigns even apply, he asked.
After being approach by the Planning Board members, Pokorny said, “I was concerned this potentially could cost the taxpayers some money if we were fined.”
He reached out to Rome Sign Co.: “They said to me that their attorneys said the Trump sign was not a political sign,” and therefore not covered by the town’s sign regulation.
“In this world today, no one’s going to agree on politics,” said Pokorny. “I just want to protect the rights we do have and go about it the right way.”