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It’s a sign: The political season has arrived in Hamburg

It appears the silly sign season – er – the political season has begun in Hamburg.

The prospect of adding one eight-letter word to the sign ordinance caused a mini-firestorm at the Hamburg Town Board this week.

The tempest subsided when the board decided not to add the word to the section governing political signs.

The word would have outlawed the practice that has become common in the town: Candidates placing a large campaign sign on a truck or a trailer, and parking it in a lot on a main thoroughfare for all to see.

Carl Morgan, one of four candidates running for town justice, said his sign has been out for 3½ months and he has not been cited. He said he talked with a code enforcement officer before putting out the sign to make sure he would not be in violation of the ordinance.

The old ordinance and the new one prohibit political signs from being “erected” more than four weeks before an election.

Morgan said he discussed the ordinance with Kurt Allen, supervising code enforcement officer, and told the officer his sign was not erected but was “displayed.”

The Town Board Monday night was planning to add the word “displayed” to the ordinance, which would cover political signs on trailers. The erected or displayed signs cannot be larger than 8 square feet, must be in front of occupied premises, and can’t be put up prior to 30 days before the election, under the new ordinance.

“This appears to be structured now to target me, as a political opponent of someone who sits up there,” Morgan said, referring to Town Attorney Walter Rooth III, who also is running for town justice. “If this gets enacted, I get cited. I get prosecuted by the town attorney’s office. The matter comes before the judge, the town attorney’s father.”

Rooth’s father, Walter L. Rooth, is a longtime town justice who is not seeking re-election. Walter Rooth, the town attorney, said the change was not substantial enough to warrant a new public hearing. After Morgan objected to him giving advice on the matter to the board, Rooth said he had no problem with the provision being delayed until after the election.

Morgan was not the only one who objected to the new provision. Highway Superintendent Tom Best, and his son, Tom Best Jr., who is running for Town Board, also opposed it. The highway superintendent said he had a sign like this and so did Supervisor Steven Walters.

“You people have been working on it a year and a half, and now to change it two months before the next election is unfair to the candidates involved in the election,” said the highway superintendent. “I know personally several candidates who have spent thousands of dollars on signs ... and now you decide it is illegal.”

All three Town Board members, two Democrats and one Republican, and the code enforcement officer, said the ordinance was not politically motivated. But they decided not to put the word “displayed” in the code, and said they would add it after the election.

The sign ordinance also allows digital signs in commercial and industrial areas.