Belen councilor wants clarity on city election sign law

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Even though the Primary Election is less than a week away, one Belen city councilor is hoping that they can clarify its sign ordinance to make it clear when campaign signs can be erected in the Hub City.

Belen City Councilor Frank Ortega suggested last week that the city's ordinance be clear on how long before an election candidates can put up their signs. He said the current law is too vague.

The current ordinance states, "Signs related to political campaign prior to an election may be permitted on any lot provided such signs shall not be placed more than 30 days prior to the election and shall be removed within ten days following the election."

Ortega says that because absentee and early voting begins about 45 days prior to any given election, candidates are counting back from that day and putting up their signs about two months before election day.

"I'm not sure if our ordinance means 30 days before the election, or 30 days before they can start voting, It also doesn't include county or state elections," Ortega said.

"If we make it clear, it would be consistent across the board. I think we should say 30 days before an election, whether it be municipal, primary or the general."

Councilor David Carter said school board elections or other types of elections, such as for the Middle Grande Conservancy District, also need to be addressed.

"I know this past (municipal) election was pretty clean, but that was the only issue that was sticky," said Councilor Wayne Gallegos. "Planning and zoning said it was confusing. Early voting muddies up the definition."

Mayor Jerah Cordova, who had successfully ran for a city council seat four years ago, was cited by the city for putting up a campaign sign before the 30-day restriction.

Cordova contended that it was not a temporary campaign sign because it was a billboard.

Ultimately, the city filed a lawsuit against Cordova, to which Cordova counter sued.

In the end, both parties dropped their respective lawsuits and Cordova was elected to the city council.

"I have some experience with this four years ago," Cordova said. "One of the challenges is you want name recognition as a non-incumbent.

"We need to ensure that those candidates can communicate by using signs. I would urge the council to recognize that and consider absentee and early voting as the starting point."

Ortega said while he understands the mayor's concerns, he pointed out that there are always other ways that candidates can get their name out to the voters, such as the News-Bulletin or social media.

"Right now, there's a lot of ways to communicate," the councilor said. "I saw they were announcing their candidacy 60 to 70 days before the election and they were using Facebook. I think 30 days before election day is the right way."

Cordova said his preference would be not to put a limit on when campaign signs could be erected, but if he had to, it would be the first day when a voter could cast a ballot, either absentee or by voting early.

Councilor Wayne Gallegos said he understands Ortega's concerns, saying that candidates are causing a problem with "too many signs."

"We're causing the problem," Gallegos said. "If you're going to have a house for sale, how long can you have a sign out there? We need to clean up what's out there."

"Throughout the years, I've heard all the arguments, including cleaning up the city," the mayor said. "People don't want them up too soon or afterwards. I think there is a strong argument that they have a free speech right as well as the rights of private citizens."

While the issue was not being considered for a vote, Ortega said he would like it be placed on an upcoming agenda so the council could amend the ordinance.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.