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Village Board considering proposal for campaign fairness ordinance

Political mudslinging in East Aurora village elections may carry a bit more accountability, at least in terms of who specifically is dishing it out.

The Village Board is considering a proposed campaign fairness ordinance that basically aims to force candidates or political committees to identify themselves on mass campaign literature -- whether it's written or electronic. The main objective is to discourage anonymous attacks.

The proposal defines mass campaign literature as meaning more than 100 similar pieces of campaign material such as mailers, flyers, door hangers, walking cards and fliers.

"It's not designed to require niceness or truth," Trustee Libby Weberg, who is sponsoring the measure, said Wednesday. "In a community this size, it's just nice to play fair and put a name to it."

Weberg wants names put on political statements used in campaigns in East Aurora village elections, which are nonpartisan in nature. The proposal stipulates that the name be legible and in a conspicuous spot not smaller than 6-point type in a contrasting color.

Weberg's idea is not new. It has been floating around ever since a combative mayoral election occurred in March 2006, but she says it goes beyond that particular race.

"It's been a pattern since then, but it's not just the March 2006 election," Weberg said. "I think it makes people reluctant to run [for office]. It's so voters can better evaluate what they're receiving. Sometimes, anonymous is not blatantly negative. It can just be slanted a bit."

The proposal faces a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday in Village Hall.

"Enough of the nonsense that takes place in the shadows," Trustee Al Kasprzak said last week. "It's like Bambi's mother. You don't have anything good to say, don't say it at all."

Already, it is stirring debate among village trustees over constitutionality, as well as how well it could be enforced by police.

"My first thought was that it is a great idea," Trustee Kevin Biggs said. "My second thought is that it's totally unenforceable."

Even Police Chief Ronald Krowka acknowledged that such a measure could be difficult to enforce, though he said that e-mails could be traced.

Others see it as violating constitutional principles.

"This is clearly an infringement on people's rights," Trustee Patrick McDonnell said. "It came about because of the 2006 mayoral election. It's fielded legislation."

If the ordinance is approved by the board, violators could face fines up to $250 or be jailed for a maximum of 15 days, or both.

Village Attorney Robert Pierce, who helped draft the measure, said "it may have a problem with constitutionality and could go either way."

Mayor Clark W. Crook, elected earlier this year, said he finds negative campaigning ineffective.

"I'm willing to give the community the benefit of the doubt to make its own mind up," he said. "I am concerned about the ability to enforce it."

Trustee Ernest Scheer said he doesn't like sending out fliers without putting a name on it.

"It's part of your First Amendment rights, with free speech, but you put your name to it," he said.


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