Rotterdam residents and former elected officials Robert Godlewski and John Mertz have filed a complaint against the Town Board alleging board members violated the town’s political sign law and oath of office.
The complaint filed Thursday to the code enforcement officer accuses board members of “intentionally, willfully and knowingly violating the Town of Rotterdam Code” by placing political lawn signs throughout town.
A 1996 local law states that political signs cannot be placed until Sept. 1. The law is the subject of a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on whether to repeal the law since the governor has moved the primaries to June.
In the complaint, Godlewski and Mertz said some of the elected officials running for office had erected signs before a resolution to hold the public hearing was discussed.
During the Town Board’s June 9 meeting it was indicated by the two Town Board members not running for election – Evan Christou and Samantha Miller-Herrera– that any change to the law would not affect this year’s election, according to the complaint.
Mertz and Godlewski said because the law isn’t being upheld by the board, the members have therefore also violated their oath of office.
“As a society, there is a valid expectation that elected officials uphold the law and recognize they are not immune or above the law,” states the complaint. “In this case, the violation of the local law is not about political lawn signs; it is about the intentional, willful and blatant disregard for the applicability of the law to their actions.”
Mertz, who is the Rotterdam Republican Committee chairman, and Godlewski, a registered Democrat, said the move isn’t political.
“Compliance with the law is our only expectation,” he said.
Signs have been placed throughout town supporting various candidates. One of them, Joe Guidarelli, who is currently on the board and running for town supervisor, said not being allowed to have the signs up is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
“We live in the town of Rotterdam – not Moscow,” Guidarelli said. “The town’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court of the United States has made this perfectly clear on multiple occasions.”
Guidarelli said those cases include City of Ladue v. Gilleo and Reed v. Town of Gilbert.
Godlewski disagreed with Guidarelli.
“They might have a First Amendment right but anybody who reads any Supreme Court decisions on that right knows that it’s not carte blanche,” Godlewski said. “There are restrictions because town governments have home rule authority.”
Clerk Diane Marco, who is seeking re-election, had two large signs and a few smaller ones erected on the front lawn of her Curry Road home.
“It’s interesting that the same guy who got called out for improperly using the insignia of the Conservative Party is now trying to prevent Rotterdam residents from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Marco said in an emailed statement.
Board member Stephen Signore, who is seeking re-election, questioned how Mertz can complain about compliance with the law when there are still signs up for Paul DeLorenzo, who ran for state Assembly last year. He said the law also requires that signs must be taken down no more than 14 days after Election Day.
“It’s now been up over a year,” Signore said.
In the complaint, Mertz and Godlewski note that under the law it is presumed that the candidate whose name is on the sign is solely responsible for the sign.
Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone said the complaint will be considered during the town’s public hearing on the law.