Political Party Threatens Litigation Over Sign Removal

For the second straight Roselle Park mayoral election, signs are an issue on the race to election day.

Four years ago, the Republican candidate for mayor was arrested for stealing a campaign sign off of private property. This year, the campaign for the Democratic candidates are charging the municipal government with doing the same and threatening to file a lawsuit with the Superior Court of New Jersey.

A letter from the Law Offices Of Michael S. Doran out of Westfield was sent yesterday, October 30th, to Frank Genova, the Director of Code Enforcement. The correspondence was written on behalf of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee and the three current Democratic candidates for local offices: Robert Mathieu, Joseph Petrosky, and Joseph Signorello III.

Mr. Doran stated that Mr. Genova, acting as an agent of the municipality, “removed political signage from private property, without authority, without first providing the owners of those signs any process, no less due process, and without a scintilla of evidence that any of the signs removed violated the ordinances of the Borough of Roselle Park.”

The attorney added that it was “clear that the majority of the signs removed were those which supported candidates challenging the current Borough administration” but that the position of he and his clients applied “to all candidates for local elected office.”

Establishing the case for his clients, Mr. Doran referred to Section 40-601 of the Roselle Park code book under political campaign signs:

Sign, Political Campaign shall mean a sign no more than six (6) square feet in area constructed of material of a nonpermanent nature such as paper, canvas, corrugated or nondurable plastic. Content of such political campaign signs shall be consistent with the community standards enumerated in this chapter. Such sign shall not be illuminated, and posting of such signs on fire hydrants, public telephone booths, utility poles or on trees in public right-of-way is expressly prohibited. Should such signs be posted in the window of a business establishment, the same regulations as enumerated in the definition of “Sign, Temporary” as they pertain to window coverage shall apply.

He also cited Section 40-3002, specifically 40-3002.B which states:

No sign shall be placed where it obstructs pedestrian or vehicular views.

Mr. Doran additionally referred to 2015 United States Supreme Court decision on Reed. et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, which found that the Town of Gilbert’s sign ordinance constituted content-based regulation of speech that did not survive a “strict scrutiny analysis.”

Mention was made of a September 27, 2018 letter from Borough Clerk Andrew Casais relaying the municipality’s zero-tolerance policy on signs being on public property, easements, and right-of-ways. This letter was sent to 30 municipal, county, state, and federal candidates running for office including United States Senator Bob Menendez and his opponent Bob Hugin.

The letter from the borough clerk did state that “Any person or political campaign who is found to be in violation of these guides may be subject to the receipt of a summons from the Roselle Park Department of Code Enforcement or the Roselle Park Police Department.”

One of the issues with the candidates threatening litigation was the unilateral removal of signs without a summons as stated in the letter from the borough.

Reportedly, numerous calls were made to the Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD) regarding signs for the U.S. Senate race along the center median of Westfield Avenue, which is public property. In response to the violation of the letter sent to all candidates, it has been reported that around 100 signs were removed throughout the borough in total with around 30 to 40 of them being removed from the median. Many of the rest were on streets that either had no sidewalk and were in violation of the five- to six-foot (depending on the width of the street) borough property easement.

Joseph Signorello III, the Democratic candidate for mayor, regarding the incident, commented, “Yesterday my grandfather and several citizens informed me that overnight their yard signs were “stolen.” After a number of inquiries from myself and other residents, I was informed that a borough employee had taken them as they “violated municipal ordinances and policies.” If this is true, these actions are unacceptable, and we will challenge them. Due process must be followed, and the first amendment must be respected. Personal property should not be tampered with unless a citizen has been appropriately informed, or had his/her day in court.”

In speaking with other candidates, they did state that their signs were also removed. Both Carl Hokanson and William Fahoury stated that their campaign signs were also removed from areas within the right-of-way. It is not known if photographs exist showing violations.

“If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I’m going to leave it at that,” stated Carl Hokanson regarding his signs being taken, “A guy called me up and told me his sign was stolen but it looks like it was one of the signs that were removed.”

Other than making his statement regarding his signs, Mr. Hokanson in his capacity as mayor – not candidate – stated that any matters regarding the letter from Mr. Doran are to be referred to the borough’s legal counsel.

Mr. Fahoury remarked, “I understand and accept Code Enforcement’s decision to remove my political signs that were in violation of Municipal Code. I will not be taking any action on this matter and I consider this matter closed.”

Mr. Fahoury, who is the Republican candidate for mayor as well as the current third ward councilman, also added that he could not comment further since the matter is being handled through the borough attorney.

Calls were made to the campaign offices of both Bob Menendez and Bob Hugin, but no comments were received in time for this publication.

In reaching out to Mr. Genova, he referred all matters to the borough attorney, Richard Huxford, since it has now become a legal matter.

Mr. Huxford was in court today but was able to return a phone call requesting comment. He stated that he has no comment at this time since he reached out Mr. Doran’s office and is waiting for a call back.

Mr. Doran reached out to the newspaper in response to a call made to his office. He stated that at this time he had no additional comment other than the letter his office sent to the municipality.

Due to time constraints, other local, county, and state office candidates were not contacted for this article.

The deadline mentioned in the letter from Mr. Doran’s office is at the time of this publication – 3 p.m.

Election day is six days away on November 6th.

Copies of letters from the Mr. Doran’s office as well as from Mr. Casais’ office are included below:

Download RPDC Letter To Borough Of Roselle Park (October 30, 2018)

Download 2018 Lawn Sign Letters To All Candidates