Some Evanston aldermen Monday urged city officials to vigorously enforce an ordinance that limits display of political campaign signs.

The ordinance, adopted in 1987, bars campaign signs posted more than 45 days before or 7 days after an election.

The ordinance only allows signs on private property and limits the total size of such signs to no more than “six square feet per occupancy” — which would appear to limit a single family homeowner to displaying only one standard-size campaign sign at a time.

The ordinance appears to conflict with a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, City of Ladue v. Gilleo,  in which the high court ruled that a municipal ban on political signs on private property violated First Amendment free speech guarantees.

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, asked City clerk Rodney Greene to send letters to all candidates informing them of the ordinance, and Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said city staff should be directed to remove offending signs and fine those who violated the ordinance.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, who is running for mayor, indicated that she shared Bernstein’s concerns.

The aldermen’s ire appeared to be directed at mayoral candidate Barnaby Dinges, who said he has distributed more than 200 signs to supporters around town.

Dinges says that after being advised a month ago by the city clerk that signs on public parkways violated the ordinance he retrieved all those signs and now is encouraging supporters to place signs in their windows.

But the sign ordinance makes no distinction between political signs on lawns or those placed in windows.

Dinges says, “It’s almost un-Evanston not to encourage” political speech and noted that during last year’s presidential campaign political signs were displayed around town long before the start of the time period permitted under the ordinance.

“But my signs seem to have gotten to some people,” Dinges says. “I find it a little strange with all the financial issues the city is facing that they would be focusing any energy on this.”

“It’s unfortunate for the city to even ponder taking action against individuals who wish to express their views in the election,” he added.

He said the time restriction in the sign ordinance clearly favors incumbents who have less need to build name recognition among the voters.

In an e-mail message this morning Bernstein said he really only objects to signs placed on public property and when overzealous supporters of his own candidacy have placed them there in the past he’s removed them himself.

Monday night Bernstein also objected to a Dinges supporter handing out literature outside the City Council Chamber and asked Police Chief Richard Eddington to tell the man that action violated a city ordinance.

Bernstein this morning said he was still researching what provision of the city code would support that view.

An Illinois Municipal League legal department report says that while not all municipal restrictions on campaign signs are unconstitutional, they are difficult to defend because of the decision by courts to apply strict scrutiny to any restriction on political speech.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. Barnaby Signage
    “Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, who is running for mayor, indicated that she shared Bernstein’s concerns.

    The aldermen’s ire appeared to be directed at mayoral candidate Barnaby Dinges, who said he has distributed more than 200 signs to supporters around town.”

    Whatever my thoughts are on Mr. Dinges, this is fishy. In my opinion Alderman Tisdahl should have abstained from discussion on this regarding another candidate. If for any reason, than to make yourself look like you’re engaging in Fisher Price My First Machine Politics.

    As they say, this isn’t business this is personal. Were any other candidates singled out at the meeting?

    Nice research, Bill.

  2. Not crazy about Dinges signs, but. . . .
    I agree that it is pretty stupid for the aldermen to be spending time on this issue when there are so many more pressing items for them to be dealing with (e.g. the budget). It does seem like they are working against one individual, and it is particularly troubling when another candidate in the same race, who is currently an alderman, gets to weigh in. I think Ms. Tisdahl should have recused herself from this discussion because it is a conflict of interest.

    Who brought up this concern anyway? The voters? The other candidates in the race?

    We need to find a happy medium: We should support free speech in Evanston, but we should also respect others rights not to have public property littered with campaign materials.

  3. Time to change the yard sign ordinance
    As a candidate for 7th ward alderman, I have placed a yard sign on my lawn and on the private property of several supporters. I secured a place on the ballot in December, obviously more than 45 days before April 7, 2009.

    Why should signs be limited to less than half the time of an “official” candidacy?

    The ordinance also addresses size or area of signs. Was I supposed to choose among the Obama, Schakowsky, Schoenberg, and Hamos signs I displayed last Fall?

    As a citizen involved with local issues, I have also placed yard signs for Save the Civic Center, Stop the Tower, and other issues in the past. Are all those residents who supported these causes also in violation of the ordinance?

    It’s ironic that painters, contractors, real estate agents, etc. can put up yard signs for months at a time, but Evanston limits political signs.

    Free expression is a right that Evanstonians take much advantage of. Time to, at least, modify the ordinance.

  4. SIGNS
    After the election, I took down our Barack Obama-Joe Biden sign, not because of any consciousness of the ordinance. But about two weeks ago, with the inauguration fast approaching, I put it up again –not as a political sign for an election, but as a sign of celebration of an extraordinary event about to take place in our Nation — the inauguration of our first President of color. A violation? No! An exercise of free speech? Yes! But most of all, a celebration!

  5. 1st Amendment and Yard Signs
    I agree, the city should be careful about 1st Amendment issues, lest they suffer an expensive lawsuit to come to the same conclusion the US Supreme Court has already come to…

    To summarize the ruling listed in the original post above:

    In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Missouri city law prohibiting signs at private residences. Margaret Gilleo ran afoul of the law when she placed a 24-by-36-inch sign in her front lawn with the words, “Say No to War in the Persian Gulf, Call Congress Now” and an 8 ½-by-11-inch sign in the second-story window of her home that read, “For Peace in the Gulf.”

    A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court rejected the ordinance in City of Ladue v. Gilleo, writing that residential yard signs were “a venerable means of communication that is both unique and important.”

    Also found here:

    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/speech/personal/topic.aspx?topic=yard_signs

    – Calin

    1. Priorities
      Who initiated this complaint, a concerned citizen or a worried politician?

      Desks, yard signs, nuclear weapons… Where is the focus on fiscal responsibility and leadership?

      Now, that being said, I’m glad there’s an ordinance out there, but my feeling is that it is intended to address the litter of campaign signs being left out months after election day is over.

  6. Selective enforcement of City Ordinance points to Corruption-
    The city ordinance for political signs as far as I know has not been enforced – yes the city will remove the signs on parkways – but at election day they appear to allow them by the polls all over the place.

    I do not recall – the city telling people they could not place signs up due to some time limit. The current ordinance clearly limits Free speech. Mr Dinges has filed his petitions – he is running for the office. So whats the problem?

    The limiting of signs after the start of the election activities clear is not complying with Free speech.

    The city ordinance is like so much else here it is poorly written and is against the law. Just like the stupid “Employ Evanston Ordinance” which actually is a potential patronage program.

    By the way – I recall supporters of Alderperson Tisdahl not complying with the ordinance during the last election – was she complaining then? One of her supporters had at least 20 signs on their property.

    Alderperson Hansen directing staff to go on private property ( as Bill reported ) to remove signs clearly show she does not understand the law, ( I thought she was a lawyer?) It would appear to me the city would have to go to court to remove the signs. That would be more interesting.

    Bottom line – we all know the council is not dealing with the real issues and they do not even understand them, ( the budget is beyond them ), so yard signs becomes more important.

    While I have not decide who I am voting for in the mayoral election – I will call Mr Dinges and allow him to put up yard signs on my property.

    1. Minnesota
      Junad wrote:

      “By the way – I recall supporters of Alderperson Tisdahl not complying with the ordinance during the last election – was she complaining then? One of her supporters had at least 20 signs on their property.”

      For those who aren’t aware….Junad was Tisdahl’s opponent in the last election.

      Junad, if you noticed any improprieties by Tisdahl supporters during the campaign, did you file any complaint? Bringing up these allegations about unfair practices after you lost just doesn’t look good( see Coleman, Norm).

      “While I have not decide who I am voting for in the mayoral election – I will call Mr Dinges and allow him to put up yard signs on my property.”

      The mayoral race is a joke. Fortunately, the mayor doesn’t have much power. I haven’t made my mind up which candidate – I need more information about Dinges. If I recall correctly, Dinges favors low taxes, free parking, sunshine and lollipops, and the Soldier Field boondoggle. I think Tisdahl favors low taxes, rainbows, and ice cream, and bothering Northwestern. I need to hear what they have to say about other important issues like puppies, babies, and apple pie.

      1. Who – you are wrong again
        Who – how many elections have their been since the last council election? I have lost count – the election was over four years ago.

        I was referring to the last election – in November – the person I refer to was a supporter of hers four years ago who placed numerous signs in their yard in the November election.

        I am not going to file any complaints WHO because the ordinance is against the law. That would just support the nonsense.

        WHO as for the Mayoral race come to the Levy Center wednesday night and you can even ask a question – all those running for Mayor will be there, that is unless you are eating your Cocoa puffs or dancing with the stars?

        1. Mayoral candidate debate
          Junad wrote: ” . . . as for the Mayoral race come to the Levy Center wednesday night and you can even ask a question – all those running for Mayor will be there.”

          I am unable to find a listing for this. Is anyone able to provide the time and confirm the date for this event with the mayoral candidates?

          Reply:
          Sure … look for it here in the Evanston Now events listings.
          — Bill

  7. A Candidate Agressively Seeking Our Votes… I like it!
    If Tisdahl spent more time campaigning for office rather than thwarting one of her opponents attempts to run an aggressive campaign, I’d be more impressed with her candidacy for Mayor. I don’t know too much about Dinges but I do like the fact that he’s aggressively courting voters, putting forth ideas, and seems to really want the job. His website is informative and sharp and the fact that he’s not aware of some arcane and possibly unconstitutional local ordinances about yard signs and campaign literature is a bit refreshing (although I do hope he is brushing up on local laws and procedures). We need a change in Evanston. Whether Dinges is the one to bring about that change I’m not sure but he’s worth a look.

    1. Local Ordinances and council members
      Actually the sign Ordinance has legal problems and the city knows its. You can NOT control the message – that limits free speech. The ordinance creates different rules for different messages. ( Ie. real estate agent versus political Candidate )
      Thus it is Unconstitutional.

      Given the fact many of these council members are lawyers one has to wonder how competent they are in their own practices, when they create such nonsense.

      Beyond the posts on here about the “Evanston Employement Ordinance” which the legal department told them months ago not to past in the form they pasted it, I heard something that was all the more stupid stated at the budget hearing.

      That is they have written a letter to the employees claiming – they have full employment and no layoffs -stupid yes – depending on how this was written it could created legal problems.

      Remember all these legal problems cost the tax payers they are very good at hiddening them since it is all covered up in executive session.

    2. $15-billion in direct benefits to clients
      “. I don’t know too much about Dinges but I do like the fact that he’s aggressively courting voters, putting forth ideas, and seems to really want the job. “

      I am always suspicious of someone who really wants the job. In the early days of this country, candidates had to pretend that they were not interested in running for office. After their supporters nominated them, the ‘reluctant’ candidate would accept the nomination as part of his duty to serve the country. Going around pandering to voters and making promises was seen as vulgar.

      “His website is informative and sharp “

      Yes, but remember he is a public relations guy…so we should expect a sharp website.

      Since the mayor of Evanston has so little power, maybe a good PR guy is what we need. The question is, what agenda will he use his PR skills to promote? Will he advocate for the City and for economic development? Or will he advocate for the NIMBYs and the special interests?

      I have already mentioned Dinges’ involvement in the Soldier Field Boondoggle. I am worried that he will become an advocate for a similar boondoggle in Evanston ( pouring money into ‘restoring’ the ‘historic’ decrepit Civic Center).

      On the other hand, if he uses his skills to be a cheerleader for development, ‘educating’ people about the benefits of the Tower, that would be welcome.

      But I want to know about Dinges’ relationship with energy companies. Dinges’ linkedin resume states:
      ” He designed and implemented nation-leading electricity deregulation campaigns in Illinois and Michigan that delivered nearly $15-billion in direct benefits to clients”

      15 billion in direct benefits to the clients? Enquiring Minds want to know who these clients were, and how they were delivered 15 billion dollars?

      1. Call me Mr. Who
        Mr. Who:

        All the subjects you raise require a conversation and I’m happy to discuss them >>

        1) My plans to help lead Evanston’s economic development efforts

        2) The Soldier Field Project

        3) My energy expertise and the massive rate cuts I helped deliver for residents of Illinois.

        Feel free to call me at 847/864-6815. Your snarky sniping is fun but it doesn’t further the conversation much. These are complex topics that require more than a few sentences to explain.

        Barnaby Dinges
        http://www.dingesformayor.com

      2. Mr Who –
        Mr Who states –
        ” am always suspicious of someone who really wants the job. In the early days of this country, candidates had to pretend that they were not interested in running for office. After their supporters nominated them, the ‘reluctant’ candidate would accept the nomination as part of his duty to serve the country. Going around pandering to voters and making promises was seen as vulgar.”

        Who we are not living in the 18th century – it would appear to me – Baraby Dinges is running in the 21st century.

        WHO – as someone who has lived here a short time – what do you know of those who run for office here – those that have the least to say will send out their supporters list with a few brief statements on it – and that is about it. ( it does not appear to me Baraby has done that – he may but he clearly is talking to people )

        By the way why don’t you take a look at the backgrounds of a few of the others running with your inquiring mind? ( you might learn something you don’t want to know )

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.