An attorney for the City of Carmel has recommended that the city not enforce its sign ordinance until after the May 8 primary election.
At the April 17 Carmel Plan Commission meeting, attorney John Molitor said the city should take precautions in light of a judge striking down Hamilton County’s sign ordinance April 11.
“I think the popular impression now is that candidates are allowed to put their sings in the rights-of-way in Hamilton County, so it’s kind of a practical consideration more than anything else,” Molitor said when reached by phone April 18. “I don’t think the city wants to get involved in doing something that looks like it might fly in the face of what he judge ordered the county to do.”
The judge’s decision doesn’t apply to city ordinances, but Molitor said changes in state laws and a Supreme Court decision regarding a similar case in Arizona are reasons to keep an eye on the issue.
“Carmel has addressed this several times in the last 10 years,” he said. “The problem is the courts keep issuing these new orders and the state keeps passing new statutes.”
Rick Sharp, a Carmel resident running for a seat on the Hamilton County Council, filed a lawsuit Feb. 20 challenging the county’s sign ordinance. He said that it restricted political free speech and limited chances for lesser-financed candidates to build name recognition.
In his ruling, Hamilton Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes determined that the county’s ordinance was unconstitutional because it restricted some signs – such as political ones – in unincorporated areas but allowed commercial signs, which are regulated by a different code. Hughes stated the county has the right to limit signs to improve aesthetics and ensure public safety – two goals stated in the ordinance – but that it didn’t make sense to then allow only certain kinds of signs, especially when content is the determining factor.
Molitor said Carmel’s sign ordinance is content neutral and that he does not believe the city’s ordinance would be as difficult to defend as the county’s.
Hamilton County Commission President Christine Altman, who is running a primary campaign to keep her seat, said commissioners plan to discuss whether to appeal the ruling at their April 23 meeting.