By Moses Leos III
Local election candidates and national campaign groups could have a few more things to consider when placing signs in Buda.
On July 15, the Buda City Council unanimously passed a first reading amending its Unified Development Code (UDC) regarding political signs. A second reading is scheduled for August 5.
“This is to address what we call the signs arms race at [polling places],” Director of Planning Chance Sparks said on July 15. “This seeks to establish standards on electioneering signs without trampling into the political speech issue too much.”
Buda’s ordinance adds several additional measures of political sign regulation to the UDC. It includes the length of time signs can stay at a polling place, along with the size and set up of signs.
During previous election cycles, candidates expressed confusion with the city’s rules on electioneering signs.
The city’s UDC stipulates political signs cannot be placed in the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and the fence line. Signs can be placed at a polling place, but must be no more than 500 square feet and no closer than 100 feet, per the Texas Election Code.
The new measures, drafted from similar measures in other cities, provide more definitive rules, according to Sparks.
“We try to be as proactive as possible,” Sparks said. “A lot of candidates will be happy, as it gives them space to draw in, so they all have a level playing field.”
Currently, Buda’s UDC forces candidates to place and remove political signs 30 minutes before and after an election. The rules were deemed “stringent” by councilmember Eileen Altmiller during the July 15 city council member.
Sparks said the city ran into issues with candidates forgetting their own signs.
“We have run into that a few times where the signs stick around afterward,” Sparks said.
Under the new law, candidates will be allowed a full 24 hours to place and 24 hours to remove signs at polling places.
Buda’s new rules also define how large such signs can be — a maximum of 9’ wide x 4” high — and how they are set up a polling places.
According to Sparks, the city has dealt with damage to irrigation systems regarding the placement of political signs. Their new rules aim to ensure political signs do not damage infrastructure.
The size aspect negates any advantage candidates may try to gain.
“What we’ve seen is the biggest sign wins,” Sparks said. “We have had some very large signs placed [at polling places].”
In addition, the measure also further defines the scope of penalties for rule breakers.
Penalties for anyone breaking a rule in the UDC are $500 to $2,000. It’s a penalty Buda’s Planning and Zoning commission felt was excessive at its July 8 meeting.
Language was amended to include the phrase, “up to” $2,000. It now gives municipal court judge Sondre Crabtrey discretion to apply penalties.
“I would anticipate that if a maximum fine is handed out, it’s going to be something significant and severe,” Sparks said.
With November elections looming, Sparks said city staff will provide candidates a diagram of where the rules would apply at polling places. It would be included in a packet candidates receive regarding state and city guidelines already in place.
The seats of Mayor Todd Ruge, along with Mayor Pro-Tem Bobby Lane and councilmember Eileen Altimiller, are up for election.
For Sparks, ensuring the standards were put in place was key.
“One of things when dealing with political speech, you have to be very defined and predicable, where everything is treated equally,” he said.